Friday, 27 January 2012

Hero - The Official Film of the 1986 FIFA World Cup

Mexico 86! Again?  Sorry... I don’t just cut 'n' paste these articles you know, but given my football nostalgia begins at this juncture, it’s no real surprise it’s a common reference point.

Anyway, there was a World Cup held in Mexico in 1986 and, as with all World Cups since 1966, FIFA produced an official film. You could tell it was an official FIFA product as it was supplied in a brown envelope and cost £300K in used notes plus a vote in some bidding process. Ha! Satire!  Hello, is this thing on? Sorry... again...

And so to the film, and we begin with footage of Maradona (the Hero you see) gliding through the England defence on his way to score what became the 'Goal of the Century' accompanied by what some may call a cod-Aztec synth riff, closely followed by the mandatory-for-the-mid-80s, syn-drums. This was 1986. Rick Wakeman was providing the soundtrack. Prog rock may have been dead, but keyboards were very much alive. "Worldmark Soccer International Presents" a "Challis / Maylan Production"- "Hero - The Official Film of XIII World Cup..."

The film itself begins by covering the devastating earthquake that so nearly cost the country host status only eight months prior to the tournament’s opening match. To this day it remains a great credit to Mexico recovering in such a short space of time. Contrast that with the current situation in Brazil, who’ve so far struggled just to build the infrastructure needed, let alone rebuild any of it. Stirring music plays as the story is told, then as kids play soccer in the streets, contrasted with footgage of "local boy" Hugo Sanchez in Mexico's first match of the finals, the keyboards are back with a vengeance. A much longed for Sanchez goal brings understandably jubilant scenes in Mexico's still ravaged streets.
(NB I'd embed the YouTube video, but Blogger can't find it...it can find Part 2 though!)

After that it's headlong into the bit we all came for; the football, narrated here by Michael Caine doing his best Michael Caine from The Italian Job impression. Greats like Francescoli and Laudrup are showcased in Denmark's mauling of Uruguay, then we link nicely to Denmark's own downfall at the hands of Spain. It’s at this point that the fact this is a ‘film’ as opposed to a record of the event comes to the fore, as a narrative, a story arc, must be forged. To this end, instead of following the tournament in a vaguely chronological fashion, the film details the various routes taken by the more notable teams.

While this approach may provide some dramatic tension, albeit tension somewhat deflated by the keyboard tinklings of Mr. Wakeman, it does leave one with a rather disjointed view of the whole affair.  It also suffers from arc-crash, which is a term I’ve just made up. What I mean is, they follow a certain team down their route to the final, e.g. Argentina. However, Argentina play England in the quarter final, so then we have to jump back to the first round to cover England’s progress to said match.

This method of storytelling, while effective, means that Maradona (the Hero, remember) doesn't feature 'til nearly 20 minutes in and England some while later. As I say, it makes a change from the usual method, but it does often leave you wondering which round you’re watching... and why. Then again, if you want more comprehensive coverage of every goal scored, you may want to track down a copy of ‘Every Goal of Mexico 86’ - though having watched it, I’d advise against it, graced as it is by Martin Tyler in full on ‘reading from the script auto-pilot monotone’ mode and poor man's synth track played through a pillow.

As well as the storyline flying all over the place, the soundtrack also takes a similar flight path, though appears to crash into several objects on its way, such is the jarring nature of it at times. This happens in the form of teams having their own little signature tune, meaning every time, say, France appear, we are treated to a shot of the crowd chanting about their beloved 'Bleus.' This chant isn’t seamlessly blended into the soundtrack however - rather it smashes into it at high speed, meaning the classic quarter final and nerve-shredding penalty shoot-out between France and Brazil is played out to a soundscape that bolts together Mexican Cheese Synth, Cockney narration, “VIVA, VIVA, VIVA LES BLEUS! VIVA!!!” and “Loooooo, lo looooo, lo loooooo, lo lo BRAZIL!”

In spite of these issues, the football itself is served up very well with lots of quality footage, plenty of time given to the stand out teams and matches and goals and replays given the right balance between ‘Ooh let’s see that again’ and the more modern phenomenon of ‘What did that goal look like from the POV of a passing crow?’

To summarise, yes it has its idiosyncrasies and has a distinctly cheesy feeling, but Hero is still a very entertaining watch and does manage to tell the story of Mexico 86 well. The FIFA films do seem to capture the nature of the tournament, with Hero being all bright colours and hard, midday shadows, contrasting nicely with the Official Film of the 1990 World Cup - Soccer Shootout - a much more sombre affair.

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