Super Slow Motion and Rocky’s Ghost

skycam view

a skycam view

While watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup I got obsessed by the cameras used in the production of the broadcast. FIFA produces a single feed for all media outlets through a company called Host Broadcast Services. There were, according to HBS, “up to 34” cameras in use at each match. The field was saturated with cameras. Sometimes we got a thrilling bird’s eye view thanks to the Skycam. But at other times it could be hard to assess the field of play: instead it was all close-ups and slow-motion. The constant use of super slow motion could sometimes squeeze a sense of agony from any gesture or action, no matter how banal. Or it could remove all force from a tackle, all intention from a dive. I’m not convinced, in other words, that more is more when it comes to visual information.

I watched the tournament with an artist who happens to be researching the development of different kinds of cameras. He explained to me that many of the cameras that define sports broadcasts were invented by the same guy—and that the story of those cameras goes back to one of the most famous sports films of all time, Rocky. I wrote about my friend’s project for KCET’s Artbound. Below are the opening paragraphs, and a link to the full story.

Rocky Balboa’s run up the wide steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the most iconic scenes in American cinema; we can easily recall his gesture, on reaching the top: hands in the air, in triumph. These steps are in the local news again: The Philadelphia Museum of Art is expanding. Frank Gehry’s design involves cutting out a large section right down the middle: straight along, in other words, Rocky’s path.

As part of an ongoing investigation of the relationship of the body to the camera, the Los Angeles-based artist Adrià Julià found himself climbing those steps. In the past year, Julià has interviewed cinematographers and camera operators in Los Angeles and Paris and conducted a series of experiments. These short films, sculptures, lenticular prints, choreographic studies attempt to pull the embodied experiences of filmmaking into his own practice.

Julià was drawn to Rocky’s ascent because that scene is associated with the origin of the Steadicam — one of the most important inventions in cinema history. The Steadicam moves with but also against the cameraperson’s body; balancing itself as that person moves. A 2008 profile in ICG magazine (the magazine and website for the International Cinematographers Guild) reviews the history of its development with reverence, tracing each step in the process as Garret Brown and his collaborators arrived at this device that seemed to have a life of its own. One cinematographer remembers, “‘in the early days, the Steadicam operator was treated like he had his own little bag of voodoo.'”

Brown has gone on to create more magical devices, including many of the cinematic tools used in major sporting events — such as the World Cup — flycams that run with the athlete along the length of a track or a field; skycams suspended by wires that can swoop over the field of play like a bird. He has even created underwater cameras, used to capture the swimmer’s body as she races down the lane. The Steadicam, however, is the device that made Brown’s career.

In 1974, Brown produced a reel demonstrating what his camera could do with the aim of bringing his invention to Hollywood. On that reel is a film of Ellen Brown, his wife, running down, and then up, the museum’s steps. (The two lived in Philadelphia.) When the team producing “Rocky” saw Brown’s reel, they decided to set the film in the city of brotherly love so that its hero could run up those steps, just as Ellen had done. Ellen, in other words, is the reason “Rocky” is a Philadelphia story.

[FULL STORY]

A People’s Cup

Each broadcast of FIFA’s World Cup opened with plastic samba and cartoon favelas—the actual streets of Brazil were off-limits as far as FIFA’s marketing department was concerned. They are not up to standard, and so they were replaced, like so much else.

Around the world, however, people practice the sport according to a different set of guidelines.  Las Futbolistas, for example, offer a weekly kickabout where “anti-sexist, anti-imperialist, liberation-minded lovers of the sport [can] go to relearn the game.” This past weekend, the Los Angeles collective staged a small game in Skid Row, a neighborhood in downtown LA with a large homeless community. They then marched to the Federal Detention Center, and projected the 3rd place match on a wall across the street from the building. Las Futbolistas were kind enough to share video highlights from the day.

 

Sports Play (an excerpt)

Two passages from Austrian playwright Elfriede Jelinek’s Sports Play (trans. Penny Black):

So many people with personal drive. Then, all at once, as if the stroke of an invisible clock had smashed something in their skulls and reset them to an imaginary tune, they are ticking to the same beat. They grab their sports equipment and thrash each other, smash the bowls that previously they’d held up in front of a prettily-set breakfast table or in the pub, in order to take a swig from their neighbor’s. Well, cheers! Now they are giving him one and how! Bottoms up! Heads down! (40)

Bones crack, tendons rip, veins burst, ligaments stretch, but somehow someway they survive. In sport the human bodies are like pizza boxes or disposable cups: at first they’re beautiful, and then they’re used, even abused. Nevertheless they’re washable and easy to clean…. (52)

All in one rhythm!

FIFA, Adidas, and Marina Abramovic

Above is an Adidas-sponsored re-performance of a collaboration between artists Marina Abramović and Ulay. The original work was part of a long series of experiments in the possibilities of relation-in-performance. Many of those performances had strong durational elements to them: the 1978 performance cited here involved just the two of them moving stones around in buckets. Abramović outsources the work to 11 performers for this contribution to the Adidas World Cup campaign. We watch 11 people engaged in a pointless task. Seems pretty apt.

Folks in the art world are furrowing their brows.

The FIFA/Adidas/Abramović collaboration is grotesque. But I don’t recall art critics frowning when Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno collaborated with Zidane—and Adidas, and La Liga—in their production, Zidane: un portrait du 21e siècle (2006). That work was only possible because Adidas saw it as good publicity. A reminder of this, for me: about five years ago, I tried to develop a program on experimental football cinema to propose to the Nike theater in Hollywood: the project fell apart because the Nike folks saw Zidane as an Adidas film.

I also don’t recall there being much irritation when Kehinde Whiley produced his 2010 advertisements for Puma. LACMA has been using that work all summer to advertise its exhibition Fútbol: The Beautiful Game. You will see this gorgeous ad for Puma’s “Africa Unity” kit on banners across Los Angeles. When male artists work with the commercial structures of football, folks in the art world enjoy the chance to feel like one of the guys. But when a woman does it, she’s whoring herself?

Kehinde Wiley, Samuel Eto'o (2010)

Kehinde Wiley, Samuel Eto’o (2010)

I’m not one to give Abramović a pass. But, excepting the medium (performance-based work v. visual art), I don’t see that she’s doing anything that much more awful than what blue-chip contemporary visual artists do pretty routinely. Why, review FIFA’s expensive special edition art posters. A complete set costs $6,589.99. There you will find an impressive (shameful!) array of artists who have licensed their work to FIFA.

Marina Abramović’s recent collaborations with dumb celebrity annoy most everyone in the neighborhood of performance art. The performance cited here was developed outside the charnel house. Her collaborations with Ulay were intense. In their own way, they could be painfully sincere. The deployment of that performance history and archive (with its serious affect, black and white photography, etc) within the World Cup economy is gross, but it is perhaps no more or less gross than anything else circling this particular drain.

Goal Deficit: a note on Brazil’s loss and David Luiz’s tears

Luiz

The World Cup is an intensely produced spectacle. Each goal is a world-defining event. The televisual audience watching from home, thousands of miles from the stadium, luxuriates in the experience of proximity to the match. We race down the pitch behind an attack, we are inside the goal as the ball hits the back of the net. Players rush across the field to celebrate, a camera suspended from wires flies behind and above them, like a bird. Suddenly, we’ve parachuted into the celebratory huddle. We are as close to the players’ ecstasy as they are to each other. Cut to views of jubilant crowds watching in public parks and in bars across the country. A goal yields a surplus of joy.

But oh, when the event goes sour!

A goal is only pleasurable in an economy of scarcity. In a match like today’s, in which a team is simply annihilated, a surplus of goals ruins the story. One side takes what it wants; the other is helpless.

There is no suspense, there is no release. First there is only shock, and shame. Then we settle into the grim situation. Perhaps a cold curiosity takes over. A team knows that it is lost, and there are still 70 minutes to play. We watch the rest of the match, bearing witness to the humanity of the losing side.

A realism shadows the broadcast. It is the shadow of an alternate world to the World Cup—the shadow cast by the world in which we live.

David Luiz, in a post-match interview, cries openly. (The women in Émile Zola’s novels grow more beautiful as they are beaten by their lovers; something about this scene reminds me of this.)

Through his tears, Luiz apologies. He “wanted to bring joy to the people who suffer so much.” He and his team failed—of course they did. Not even the people running this event—the show runners—believe that the success or the failure of the World Cup rides on any single team’s performance, or even that it will be measured by the quality of the spectator’s pleasure. It will be measured by the seamlessness of the production and the direction of capital flow.

As Luiz cries, he and his teammates are carried away by the tide.

The Last Minute

Godfried Donkor, SANTO MARADONNA vs SIX OPPONENTS, 2006

Godfried Donkor, SANTO MARADONNA vs SIX OPPONENTS, 2006

At the knock-out stage of the World Cup we march through 90-minute deserts, or we are teased with the possibility of another world only to have those hopes dashed by a victory which asserts the relentless stability of the order of things.

A match may take the form of a siege. Opponents wear each other down with a negative effort. Play feels slowed down or sluggish. As one gets deeper into a tournament the fear of losing overcomes the desire to win until, finally, the latter asserts itself in the form of a late substitution (Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, in the 91st minute, against the US) or cynical play (Netherland’s Arjen Robben, in the 94th, against Mexico). Did Argentina and Switzerland play a match? It was hard to tell.

The conservative smothers the creative. Is this why the stadium was nearly silent as Brazil sank into a quagmire of anxiety? For the host country, even fans are done in by this particular form of dread—the misery of the winner who is really a loser, the most spectacular loser of them all, afraid the world will suddenly discover this ugly truth. What do we do with the fact that Brazil advanced not on the back of its play, but by virtue of being the luckier party in a Russian roulette penalty shoot-out? Even the one point they scored during the match was negative: although attributed to Luiz, it was at least partially an own-goal, having been deflected by poor Jara (who would miss his penalty and thereby sacrifice Chile to the Order).

If we are lucky, we see action in the form of the save. A team strikes at the goalie, over and over again. This excites us but it also distracts us. After we relaxed into the delusion that Tim Howard’s goal line is a wall (perhaps because it is past the point at which the match should have ended)—a new player pops onto the field and shows us that all along his team was only toying with us. We—by which I mean not the players so much as the fans—were always cannon fodder. Our delusions, food for the television camera.

Mexican Gothic (puto is a curse!)

Mexican Gothic

In honor of today’s match—at once startling and completely predictable—I share Ángel Zárraga’s gorgeous 1927 portrait of Ramón Novarro as a futbolista. Novarro (who moved to Los Angeles early in his career) was one of the original Latin Lovers. He starred in Scaramouche (1923), Ben Hur (1925), and Mata Hari (1931). He played Juan Diego in La virgen que forjó una patria (1942), a film celebrating one of Mexico’s origin stories: the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Diego in 1531. Diego was beatified and canonized only recently; he is the first indigenous person in the Americas to be recognized by the Roman Catholic church as a saint. But I digress.

Ramón Novarro was gay, and he was murdered in Los Angeles by two (white) men on, of all things, October 30, 1968 – the day before Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations. The murder was a grisly, awful affair.

This brings us to today’s match. The ESPN broadcast opened with an awkward explanation of the “puto” situation. It was, perhaps, the first trigger warning issued in sports broadcast history.

Fans of El Tri shout “PUTO” every time the opponent kicks a dead ball (goal kicks, free kicks, etc.). After Mexico’s first match, a watchdog organization filed a complaint with FIFA regarding the use of the word by fans in the stands. FIFA, unable to use the word “homophobic” in a sentence, decided that the chant is “not considered insulting in this context.” Obviously it is insulting; the question is whether “puto” is homophobic. No one can defend the word itself as never homophobic. Juliana Jimenez Jamarillo (writing for Slate) explains:

Fans yell puto, which roughly means gay prostitute, at the opposing team’s goalkeeper as a tactic to distract him from his task, a common enough practice in all sports. In this case, the chant is a very specific, homophobic double-entendre, playing on the concept of letting someone “score a goal on you.” In Spanish, to score a goal is meter un gol. That translates literally as to put a goal in, so when a goalie fails at his job, he dejó que se la metieran, or allowed someone to stick it in. You see where this is going: The embarrassment of allowing a goal in your net is akin to being on the receiving end of anal sex—you know, like a gay guy. (Jamarillo, “What’s the Puto Problem?”)

There wasn’t much anyone could do, ESPN host Bob Ley explained. The feed isn’t controlled by ESPN, and who can control fans? (One might say FIFA—they bans drums and trumpets and changed Brazilian law so that alcohol—Budweiser!—might be sold in the stadium.)

Lest we shrug off a stadium of (mostly) men shouting “puto” as merely a jinx on the opponent, let us remember gay men who have been brutally murdered at the hands of other men. Maybe by inviting men into their homes, or maybe by simply walking down the street.

For a couple weeks, we have listened to tens of thousands of fans chanting a word that means gay, but also “fucked.” And we’ve had little good commentary about how that situation is fucked up. It isn’t new (I’ve heard “puto” at Chivas USA matches, for example), but that doesn’t make it OK. Behind that word are quite specific histories of violence, aimed at quite specific people.

Also not new—Mexico fans exiting, with their team, at exactly this point of the World Cup.

Were I in the stands supporting El Tri, I might choose a different word when taunting the enemy. Not only for how “puto” works in a homophobic lexicon, but for how well it predicts Mexico’s path through every international tournament. If understanding the word’s homophobic resonances does not work for fans, perhaps a vocabulary shift might be made in the name of superstition.

The Cannibal

Yolanda de Sousa, Uruguay - Italy

Yolanda de Sousa, Uruguay – Italy

“The cannibal, as we know, has a devouring affection for his enemies and only devours people of whom he is fond.” — Sigmund Freud

Luis Suárez’s biting is a tactic. The bite is a gesture of infantile and intimate aggression. It’s child-like and animal-like. It is the gesture of the figure outside of society and the impulse of the cannibal. (The cannibal—a colonial expression of desire/fear as a fantasy of eating/being eaten by the Other.)

All sports play with social structures, and a dialogic team sport like soccer plays with the social contract—the founding agreements struck between and within communities which allow those communities to exist in a more or less stable order. The “Laws of the Game” don’t just regulate a match, they are a part of the game (e.g. debate about offside, goal-line technology, replay – the sense that the subjective nature of the referee’s calls is necessary to the game’s spirit).

One of the agreements made between teams, players, referees and spectators involves a promise to not harm each other, a willingness to address and prevent injury. When you are playing an opponent who violates that agreement so intensely and so deliberately—it throws you completely out of the organizing structures of play. It is no longer play. The victim of this violence is momentarily exiled from the social order. A game that plays with violence (and football does) is only possible if all of its participants resist the impulse to brutality.

Results hinge on how teams bear up under the strain of 90 minutes, the stress of the match. Deciding goals are scored in the 89th, 90th, 94th minute by teams with the capacity to exploit a moment of distraction, an error made from weariness. In this case, a goal was scored against a team that was left bewildered. Suárez has made an art of creating this state of confusion; team management know perfectly well that if he can score a goal, he can also goad and shock and disgust an opponent in a campaign to force them to surrender not the match, but the game itself.

The Art of Conversation: Portugal – USA

conversationSoccer is a dialogic sport. It is shaped by opposition and struggle, by action and counteraction. There are no absolutes in these kinds of sports. The things that make for a great match, for example, are not the same things that make for a great race. A race is structured by a standard measurement of time, as well as by the idea of absolute performance (“the fastest human”). But a match is measured by the quality of the conversation.

Opponents will sink and rise to each other’s level – every fan and athlete knows this experience. A match might be halting and uneventful, or lopsided and boring because the two sides never connect in play. Very talented, organized and competitive sides are not always open to talk. Spain played like a team that was tired of talking. A team that had been the life of the party for too many years, and now just wants a quiet night in once and a while. England and Portugal gave their own versions of this kind of performance. Their play has been characterized by a weary narcissism – they are not tired of the party; they are tired of themselves.

Contrast that disengagement with Germany, France, Ghana, Chile and Colombia. It’s no wonder that Germany and Ghana’s match was so tremendous: the two play with an interest in the opposition. No gesture is unremarked upon; their conversation was fluid and elegant. Each side has the capacity for a certain brutality; each has the capacity to engage and diffuse the other’s attack. Like Dorothy Parker and Gore Vidal trading barbs.

Portugal and the US – they gave us a good dialogue but not a great one. The US, on a good day, will rise to an opponent’s level. But Portugal wasn’t interested helping them along. So Portugal exploited defensive errors, and did little more than that. Yes, CR7, when left completely alone, will send in a perfect cross to just the right person. In this case, it was a witty remark made on the way out the door to suggest the fun we might have had, if he wasn’t so utterly bored by us and the world. The US was a more entertaining guest. One got the sense that they were playing through fear and disorientation. Glad to be at the table, not quite sure what they were supposed to say and do – every now and again, they’d reach across the table to fill their wine glass, wash the anxiety down and throw themselves into the fray.

Yolanda de Sousa’s Mundial Scrapbook

 

Yolanda de Sousa has been keeping a watercolor diary of this year’s World Cup. She has a painter’s eye for the ‘man of the match.’  As it happens, the Goan artist is an important figure in football history. In the late 1970s and 80s, she enjoyed a storied career playing women’s football in India. She was a real pathfinder. In 1980, she was voted player of the decade by India’s Women’s Football Federation. Sport-related work is not the mainstay of her practice, but every now and again she documents a match (football or cricket) with these player-portraits. (I wrote about her 2002 series a few years back.)

I’ve reproduced the bulk of a 2009 Times of India’s profile of the artist-footballer below. The brief article contains lots of information about her career as a player.

“It’s time for all of us to face the truth,” she says, sifting through memories when she was queen of the 100m field and the continent, her kingdom.

At a time when FIFA has struck off the Indian women’s football team from its world rankings for being out of sight or rather action for more than 18 months, Yolanda reminds us of the late seventies and early eighties when women’s football bettered the best in the continent and matched the rest of the world.

“Taiwan had an exceptionally strong team and was number one in Asia, but we always gave them plenty of problems. We were so strong in our belief and quality that we took the field knowing we could get the result we desired against most of the teams in the world,” says Yolanda, voted the player of the decade in 1980 by the Women’s’ Football Federation of India.

Yolanda’s story deserves to be told more so because it has the ability to instill the belief that women’s football still has the ability to enchant, entertain and inspire a generation.

It may not be the case elsewhere, but at least in this part of the world, many equate football with masculinity. But, as Yolanda’s story would demonstrate, that was never the case when she got enveloped by the magic of the game at a very young age.

“I would play along with my brother (Francisco) and his friends, but most of the times I was shunted to the goal. Whenever I got a chance to play up front, I would really put my best foot forward,” remembers Yolanda, who grew up to become one of Goa’s exemplary, if not, finest footballer.

Yolanda scored a goal in the first ever recorded women’s football match, playing against a men’s team appropriately called Adam’s in 1973, but it was not until 1976 when Goa took part in their first Nationals at Sultanpur and Yolanda scored a bag full of goals – 15 in all including two hat-tricks – and announced her arrival on the big scene.

“We lost in the final against Bengal by the narrowest of margins,” remembers Yolanda, dubbed the Madonna of Goan football.

The 1976 Nationals at Sultanpur was the first Goa ever participated in, and for the first time got to know what other players thought about Goa and Goans. “Since the facilities were not good enough, we wanted separate accommodations. This led to rumours that we sought a hotel elsewhere because the players wanted to enjoy their drinks! They believed we played well because we were drinking,” laughs the Calangute-based artiste.

Goa hosted the 3rd edition of the National football championship in 1977 and, true to expectations, won the tournament in style, defeating twice-champions Bengal 3-0 in front a lustily cheering capacity-crowd at the Bandodkar stadium at Campal.

Goa dominated the championship from start to finish, scoring an amazing 49 goals that included roaring wins over Madhya Pradesh (25-0), Punjab (10-0), Gujarat (5-0), Manipur (6-0) and, finally, Bengal (3-0).

Goa’s deadly strike pair of Succorinha Pereira (19 goals) and Yolanda (18 goals) scored 37 of the 49 goals, but often it was such a bore to score goals against the hapless opposition that even the strikers played the ball amongst themselves instead of taking aim at the goal!

“We were too strong for the other teams during Nationals. We used to score early in all the games since most of the goalkeepers remained clueless,” says the stylish striker.

Yolanda’s international debut came in 1976 when she, along with the likes of Rekha Karapurkar, Succorinha Pereira and Helen Fernandes, found a place in the Indian team against the visiting Swedish club BET.

She set all the venues on fire, ensuring seven victories and in the process becoming the first woman to score a hat-trick for India.

Since that memorable debut, Yolanda remained a permanent member of the Indian team until she was forced into premature retirement after the World Cup of 1981.

“Injury cut short my career. I was too scared to undergo an operation to correct the damage and instead opted to call it a day,” says Yolanda, who gave up hockey and badminton which she excelled at the highest level to nurse her football dream.

The artist with a photo from her playing days.

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