The art of Zizu and Best
The other day I was tearing up the back of the DVD shelf on an afternoon looking for something to kill a few hours – Rocky now has so many scratches that it needs replacing and it’s impossible to watch Bullitt without a decent drink in hand – when I found Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Despite it’s pretentious name, this is a terrific film, that goes a long way towards explaining why there are so many of us who view excellent football as enthralling an experience as the highest forms of art. Unless, of course, it’s Manchester United playing.
It doesn’t take long to figure out that this is no ordinary sports documentary. The film was directed by Douglas Gordon (who won the Turner prize in 1996) and Philippe Parreno (an artist and filmmaker whose work can be found in MoMA, the Guggenheim in New York and the Paris Museum of Modern Art). The film – or conceptual art piece, or odd Match of the Day package without the irritating voiceover, or whatever you want to call it yourself – uses 17 synchronised cameras to film Zidane during a game between Real Madrid and Villareal in April 2005. These scenes are overlaid with Zidane’s own musings, which manage to be thoughtful without being pretentious or overly serious, and then there’s the soundtrack – Scottish postrockers and football fanatics Mogwai were handed the keys to the sound-desk. Imagine getting that phonecall: “Yeah would like you to soundtrack a film about Zidane playing football.” Pause. “I see. And precisely who do I have murder, and is he the leader of a major or a minor superpower?”
This film captures the narrative and drama of a given game, despite the fact that Zidane actually played fairly poorly in the match. There’s enough in there to keep non-sports fans interested and it might even convert a few philistines to the merits of the beautiful game. (Apparently such people exist though, like Scientologists, they are probably best avoided.)
However, like nearly all great works of contemporary art, it’s been done before – and with none other than the late, great George Best. It doesn’t quite have the glamour of the Zidane flick, but this is a fairly revelatory approach from a different footballing era. in 1970, Hellmuth Costard, a German director, used eight 16mm cameras to shoot Manchester United against Coventry City, but the only player he filmed was Best. Would Best’s voiceover have been more entertaining than Zidane’s? Probably. Is Football As Never Before as pretentious a title as Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait? Definitely, but both have a certain ring of truth about them. Surely that’s what all great art is about?
If you’ve got an instrument to hand, you can watch both short clips below, turn down the sound, and try and write your own tunes. Good luck beating the Mogwai effort, though the Best film is a blank canvas.