Back to Hollywood's America
in American Film
Until relatively recently, sports
films rarely succeeded at the box office. Sports films, which
were considered movies for young boys, were associated with hero
worship, nostalgia, sentimentality, fantasy, and crude melodrama-qualities
that repelled film critics. Such films tended to have relatively
low-budgets, and even sports fans were put off by the films' inaccuracies,
whether these were mechanical (such as having Babe Ruth swing
the bat from the right side) or more fundamental (suggesting that
a single pitch, shot, pass, or punch makes the difference between
victory or defeat). But since the success of "Rocky"
in 1976, the sports film genre has flourished at the box office,
and has attracted audiences that would never dream of going to
a boxing ring. While the appeal of many of these recent films
lies in heartwarming stories of victories over great odds, sports
films have also served as a serious way to explore human psychology,
especially the challenges of adjusting to aging or the contrast
between childhood fantasies and the harsh realities of adulthood.
Rarely are sports movies simply
about the joys of athletic competition. Rather, Hollywood has
used sports symbolically, as an arena where individual character
is revealed or manhood is achieved or as a screen on which larger
themes can be projected, such as heroism, aging, maturity, competitiveness,
corruption, or the costs of victory. Many sports films create
mythologies. Bio-pics (screen biographies) have mythologize such
figures as Yankee first basement Lou Gehrig, but many sports movies
have reinforced broader mythologies, about the indomitable human
spirit and about the ability of ordinary people to overcome obstacles
through perseverance and grit. Many sports films aimed primarily
at a children are highly didactic, designed to teach lessons about
the values of teamwork, self-control, sacrifice, the possibility
of triumphing over great odds, and the need to obey rules.
The first baseball short, Thomas
Edison's "The Ball Game," appeared on the screen in
1898 and the first feature-length baseball film, "Right Off
the Bat," came in 1915.
from one camera position behind home plate, the film shows
a baseball game in progress. The action includes two players
running toward the camera;
one uniform is distinquishable as Newark, New Jersey.
Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded
Sound Division Washington, D.C.
(for 28.8 or higher modem) | MPEG
(3MB) | Quick
Time (1 MB)
Since then, baseball, boxing,
football, and basketball have appeared regularly on the screen
in comedies, mysteries, musicals, romances, fantasies, and many
other genres. Certain constants tend to run through sports films.
The hero is generally a youthful outsider who encounters a series
of frustrations and humiliations before proving his gumption.
has often served as a metaphor for patriotism, enduring American
values, and the link between generations. But many sports
films have also focused on bribery, dissension, and jealousy.
Sports movies have repeatedly served as a vehicle for exploring
the quest for redemption, the cult of celebrity, and the possibilities
of triumphing over great odds. Curiously, a number of recent
sports films (from "Mr. Baseball" to "The Legend
of Bagger Vance") have extolled certain eastern philosophies
emphasizing self-denial and self-control as keys to success.
each and every one of us is our one true authentic swing.
Something we was born with. Something that's ours and ours
Something that can't be learned... something that's got
to be remembered."
Why have sports movies grown more
popular in recent years? The answer is that sports has offers
a stage on which filmmakers can deal with themes that are difficult
to address through other genres:
- Bad News Bears:
Estrangement between divorced fathers and their children
- Breaking Away:
- The Great White Hope:
The country's historical burden of racial discrimination
- Hoop Dreams:
The nation's economic and racial divide
- Raging Bull: