Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Great Movies: "Hoop Dreams"

At the Movies with Michael5000

Hoop Dreams
Steve James, 1994

Previous Contact: I saw Hoop Dreams at a campus showing not long after its original release.

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Hoop Dreams is a documentary about two talented young basketball players from the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago. It follows them through four or five years of their lives, showing not just their experiences playing basketball but also about how other peoples' interest in and investment in their talent shapes and distorts their lives. It is one of those remarkable documentaries in which the subjects get so used to the cameras that they let their guard down almost entirely. At one point, one of the young men's fathers apparently buys drugs on camera.

This kind of transparency makes it a hell of a sociological document. Hoop Dreams seems to give an outsider (like me) a good hard look at some of the daily challenges in the life of the black working class. Despite being in some sense "about" peoples' passion for basketball, it is not at all flattering of the system through which young people are recruited and trained to be athletes. In fact, I think my original viewing of Hoop Dreams pretty much marked the death of my enthusiasm for the sport of basketball. That probably wasn't the directors' intent.

Plot: Two kids are recruited by a private high school's basketball program, potentially the first step towards playing professionally. Will they defy the astronomical odds against any one individual athlete getting to play in the NBA? Oh, please. It's a documentary, not an after-school special.

Visuals: Gritty and grainy, but captured with an amazing level of access to everyone involved with the story.

Dialog: The messy dialog of real life. People say a lot of ironic and self-contradictory things; the film has clearly been carefully edited to include as many of these gems as possible.

Prognosis: Depressing. Probably a good movie to watch to gain empathy for the hardships of others. Don't expect to be especially entertained.


Aviatrix said...

I have no interest in basketball, but you review has made me slightly interested in this movie.

IamSusie said...

I suppose you read Roger Ebert's recent journal entry on this film which he considers the great American documentary:

In the end, those boys did make it in life despite the considerable odds. I remember this one as very very good. I probably connected with it more than you because Chicago is my city and my dad is something of an activist working to lift the poor of Chicago out of their circumstances. Also, he and my husband like to watch Chicagoland high school sports when it is rarely on television.

I'd like to revisit it, although I wonder if knowing how it all turns out will affect a new viewing.

sister jen said...

Wah. I was hoping for a much more in-depth review. I haven't seen this film for a while, but I liked it a whole lot and once taught a class in which I developed a whole assignment cycle around it...