Sunday, 8 April 2012

Heading For Glory - Official Film of the 1974 FIFA World Cup

If you like your classic football served up with a large side order of metaphor and floral narration, you can do far worse than watch the Official Film of the 1970 World Cup – Heading For Glory.  It’s a bit like watching a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Match of the Day.

Some official World Cup films provide a basic depiction of the key games, players and teams and underpins it with a sympathetically composed soundtrack. This one does all that and describes every scene as though it were a recitation towards a thespian scholarship.

Delivering the narration with fruity sincerity is Joss Ackland, an actor of considerable repute who, around the same time, was busily lending his vocal talents to a wide range of TV advertisements. Here, he becomes a star of the film in his own right, delivering each line with lightness and positivity. Married up with the footage and the music (to say nothing of the era), it’s difficult to find fault with anything put before us.

Heading For Glory has a fairly linear flow that doesn’t confuse the viewer by jumping backwards and forwards in time like the 1986 film did. That said, it does allow itself the one conceit of beginning at the end, so to speak. The film starts with referee Jack Taylor blowing his whistle to bring the 1974 World Cup Final to a close, after which we get a rip-roaring combination of brassy ragtime music and various images of a jubilant West Germany team celebrating their victory.

But it's not all triumphalism as the camera soon lingers in slow motion on the Dutch players looking sad and forlorn in defeat. The mood is maintained with the help of some appropriately melancholic music along with Joss Ackland who’s on hand to provide an urbane word or two:

“Johan Cruyff, natural heir to Pele, lonely as a mountain wind. Holland’s captain, an original Dutch master. He has tilted at windmills... and lost.”

Cruyff: Tilting at windmills
It’s not exactly Proust, but it is a foretaste of some ambitious wordsmithery to come.

As the game ends and the last remaining journalists tap away at their typewriters in the press box “like woodpeckers pecking away at the truth” (told you), we’re treated to the sight of hundreds of West German fans in celebratory mood the same night, swigging beer from their steins and splashing around in fountains as oompah bands play for all they’re worth.

The Dutch team, meanwhile, are heading home “on their big white bird” (cf. aeroplane). The camera catches sight of the star striker and his better half on-board awaiting take-off. “Cruyff and his wife” confirms Ackland. “He flicks a speck from his eye… or is it a tear?” No, Ackland, just a speck. This isn’t An Affair To Remember, you know…

This deliberate tug at the heartstrings is, if nothing else, a useful segue into the main part of the film – the football action itself. We’re transported back to start of the competition and a swift selection of highlights featuring the teams of most interest. First some highlights featuring the Netherlands, then West Germany, then Italy who we see conceding a goal against Haiti. “Is this voodoo at work as [the Haitians] dance to happiness, happiness, all the way to happiness?” remarks Ackland. No more so than the work of scriptwriter Geoffrey Green desperately trying to elevate the narration, we suspect.

West Germany v Poland:
Forecast - wet.
Into the Second Round, we see West Germany’s progress to the Final as they overcome Yugoslavia, Sweden and Poland. The highlights from the Polish match are remarkable on two counts. First we get to see arguably the most waterlogged World Cup match ever played (and the efforts of the ground staff to make the game playable), then the most staggering sight of a minute’s silence being observed during gameplay. Austrian referee Erich Linemayr halted the match mid-flow and called for a short period of reflection following the recent death of Juan PerĂ³n, President of Argentina.

"Even the left wing is silent for the right." Bet you can't guess who said that.

The final sequence from the Second Round shows the brutal and bruising encounter between Brazil and the Netherlands, and here the multiple camera angles and cameo close ups really come into their own. What started out as a game between two skilful sides eventually became a battle to see who could gain the most from kicking, pushing and diving. The camerawork in the film highlights this beautifully and is memorable as a result.

German police trial the world's
biggest ever mobile phone
And so the Final where the loop is closed and we return to where we left off at the start of the movie. A lovely sequence plays out where we see dawn breaking in Munich an the many workers in and around the stadium going about their duties. Men sweep the streets, women wipe clean the seats inside the Olympiastadion, and sunlight catches the intricate structure of the stadium roof. "A mosquito net where soon the gnats of fate will sting" comments Joss Ackland. ('Gnats of fate'?)

Jack Taylor, the English referee for the Final, is seen tucking into a pre-match meal with his assistants, Sir Stanley Rous is observed dealing with a few telegrams prior to his last engagement as FIFA President and the German police are seen scouring inside and outside the stadium for explosive devices. The world, it seems, had become a more vulnerable place and security was now a top priority at events such as this.

The Dutch celebrate scoring from
the penalty spot
When the match gets underway, there's excitement from the word go as the Dutch take a 1-0 lead through a penalty. The camera focuses on the wives of some of the Dutch players in the crowd, wracked with nerves and unable to look as the penalty is taken. A fine example of the drama happening off the pitch as well as on it.

The camera often lingers on the star players during the game, particularly glamour boy and superstar Cruyff during his frequent attempts to shake off the man marking of Berti Vogts. Another subject is Franz Beckenbauer, predictably described in flamboyant fashion by Joss Ackland:

"The Director General is Franz Beckenbauer, number five, captain and sweeper. He's the fingerpost pointing the way. Unhurried as a man strolling down the boulevard for an aperitif."

Good though John Motson is, you somehow can't imagine him uttering that sort of stuff.

Before long, the West Germans earn an equaliser through the second penalty of the Final, an event that signals the Dutch team's loosening grip on the match. This is picked up beautifully by the multiple camera angles used in the film, showing all the action and emotion from pitch side, behind the goal, above the pitch and in stark close-up on many players.

Gerd Muller: frozen in time
There's even an attempt at emulating the techniques used on TV when Gerd Muller has a goal ruled out for offside. Ackland introduces a slow-motion replay to show 'Der Bomber' was onside with the words: "Was he really offside? Watch it again in deep-freeze."  Obviously the terminology was more embryonic than the technology back then...

Ultimately, as the record books show, West Germany went on to get a winning goal through Paul Breitner to compound the misery of Rinus Michels' side. Despite their attempts to salvage something from the game (and yet more melancholy music on the soundtrack), the Netherlands lost 2-1 to the hosts, and with the victory celebrations having appeared at the start, it only leaves Joss Ackland to close the film in his own inimitable way:

"An orange sun dies bravely from the day. Germany and history have won. It's all over."

Eat your heart out, Kenneth Wolstenholme.

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