Super Cinema (part I of III)

During its heyday NFL films took on a mythical stature. Nowhere was this more evident than with the Super Bowl highlight films. Wonderfully shot, epically scored, poetically written and delivered by the baritone of John Facenda that became to be known as the voice of god. The quality of the work from this era holds up not only as great sports highlight films, but legitimate art that encapsulate not only the game, but a slice of American culture as well. Not only that, it made what were really boring games in many instances seem better than they were. It turned men into myths and teams into legends that will be remembered for long as they strap on the shoulder pads each Sunday in the fall. In this spirit, and since the Academy Award nominations were announced today, I would like to go Siskel and Ebert and give you my reviews of these cinematic classics from the Facenda era, which covers I-XVIII. Hey Time Warner gives you ratings for every movie that comes on, why not for these! Ratings are on a five star scale,
I.                    Packers v. Chief’s: The highlights from ‘The World Championship Of Professional Football’ were, like the game itself, a work in progress. Musically the score is solid, but not lush like it would become in later years. Perhaps the most memorable moment is when Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson, who had run mad smack beforehand, got knocked out and the Packers bench just ate it up. A nice opening but not suggestive of the level of greatness that was to come, 3 stars.
II.                 Packers v. Raiders: In the last game that Lombardi coached which had meaning the Packers put together a solid performance. The same could be said of NFL films, the best moment is when I believe Fuzzy Thurston talks about how the players said to themselves at halftime that this was it for the old man and to go out and win it for him. Musically again solid, but still a little stiff and over Sousa influenced. 3 ½ stars
III.               Jets-Colts: From the opening scene this is where NFL starts to truly come into it’s own. Steve Sabol said a few years back that he was a little biased and bitter he was since he was an ‘NFL man’. And it is this venom that makes it great. Facenda almost comes off with a sneer. His ‘two champions on a Sunday afternoon, one as a quarterback, one as a man’ just encapsulates how ticked off the NFL was that this upstart league was able to pull this off. Great camera work, a really cool and varied score, and just enough sound from the sidelines make this film compelling as the game itself. A perfect historical document. 5 stars
IV.              Chief’s-Vikings: Two years ago during Super Bowl week when I was working with Big Mo over at 1590 we had Steve Sabol on and he talked about how this was his all-time favorite because this was when the NFL and AFL truly became seen as equals. Technically this game was a marvel as well since it was the first time they put a mic on a coach as Stramm was wired up. Of course considering how wound up Stramm was this made for some memorable television. Musically this is a great example of how Sam Spence and the others who composed the music were able to approximate the musical styles of the era with original sounding deviations. 5 stars
V.                 Colts-Cowboys: Another excellent effort. And finally there was a game with the drama the work NFL films did deserved. The opening scenes with the images on the day of the game showed just what a spectacle this contest was becoming. The score is excellent, the camera work impeccable. The great thing about playing the Super Bowl during the day with the game ending close to dusk it that it provides great opportunities to get cool looking shots, few if any film making operations could take better advantage of this natural feature than NFL films.  Facenda is on the top of his game. The scene towards the end where it is just the sounds of players hitting is one of the great scenes in sports documentary history. A great film, and still the strangest championship contest in league history, but just a hair less memorable. 4 ½ stars
VI.              Cowboys-Dolphins: The Cowboys before they became known as America’s Team used to be called Next Years Champions. That is the underlying theme to this edition and it comes off as a love letter to the Cowboys. And considering how Landry’s lads played that day, deservedly so. Musically this is a great example of just how complex these compositions were becoming. The music holds up as examples of some of the best instrumental rock of the genres finest era. 4 stars
Part II sometime later this week or at the start of next week.