New in Theaters: ‘Happy Valley’

Painting over Jerry Sandusky at the Penn State mural in 'Happy Valley' (Music Box Films)
Painting over Jerry Sandusky at the Penn State mural in ‘Happy Valley’ (Music Box Films)

The newest documentary from Amir Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story) is another troubling story about an insular culture reacting with fury to a scandal that threatens their self-created mythology.

I reviewed Happy Valley as part of the DOC NYC festival. It’s opening this week in limited release; my review of Happy Valley (as well as the D.C. punk documentary Salad Days, which also screened at DOC NYC) is at PopMatters:

If Amir Bar-Lev’s superb Happy Valley is any indication, the arguments in the Penn State community over the Jerry Sandusky scandal will not be ending anytime soon. As with most scandals that flare into the national consciousness amid intersecting nodal points of volatility (regional identity, sexual crimes, sports), what actually happened ultimately has little to do with how it plays out with public opinion. Just so, the film sidelines some of the who-what-when to examine the lingering dust clouds of disappointment, rage, and conspiratorial invective…

Here’s the trailer:

In Books: ‘Against Football’

(Library of Congress)
(Library of Congress)

Steve Almond is one of those overly talented writers whose style ranges from the literary short story to pop cultural/ethical commentary in the Chuck Klosterman vein. So, in one sense, the fact that Almond has written a book on sports shouldn’t be surprising. On the other hand, it’s a passionate work about a subject he cares deeply about. That’s the thing about football fanatics; they hide in plain sight.

themillions-cover1My essay on his newest book, “To Hell with All That Guilty Love: On Steve Almond’s ‘Against Football’,” ran in The Millions yesterday:

Like most of us, Almond thought he was immune from modern sports mania’s entanglements. We all know (and some of us resemble) the type, eyes scouring for the nearest screen showing SportsCenter, phones lit up by fantasy scores and trash-talk, ears always full of the angry drone of sports talk radio. No matter the mountains Almond would move to watch his Raiders lose time after catastrophic time, he thought he could stay above the fray.

In the preface, Almond describes a newspaper article he pasted to the wall of his office, which contains a quote from running back Kevin Faulk after he took a head-rattling hit. Faulk’s words were clearly those of a man who had suffered a significant blow to the brain. Almond writes, “I thought it was funny”…

Here’s Almond debating football with the great Greg Easterbrook at the Politics and Prose bookstore:

Writer’s Corner: Staying Out of the Rain

Crowd at a Harvard-Princeton football game, Nov. 8, 1913. (Library of Congress)
Crowd at a Harvard-Princeton football game, Nov. 8, 1913. (Library of Congress)

There are plenty of good reasons to become a writer—excepting of course a desire for money, fame, or respectability.

In “Phi Beta Football,” a football-season essay for the New Yorker about his childhood watching Princeton football games, John McPhee identifies another superb reason to devote one’s life to the written word:

…on a November Saturday of cold, wind-driven rain—when I was about ten—I was miserable on the stadium sidelines. The rain stung my eyes, and I was shivering. Looking up at the press box, where I knew there were space heaters, I saw those people sitting dry under a roof, and decided then and there to become a writer.

Readers’ Corner: Fall Football Edition

collegefootball1

It’s that time of year when attentions get torn between the World Series and the ever-growing all-encompassing athletic-entertainment complex that is football. Being that the latter has almost definitely overtaken the former as America’s game, there’s no end to commentary and opinion about the gridiron spectacle.

goldfinch1

One of the month’s more intriguing notes on football, though, comes from an unexpected source: Donna Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch. Here’s a short excerpt (noted by James Wood in the New Yorker) in which the narrator is talking about the ritual of watching Sunday football games out in Las Vegas:

On game day, until five o’clock or so, the white desert light held off the essential Sunday gloom — autumn sinking into winter, loneliness of October dusk with school the next day — but there was always a long still moment toward the end of those football afternoons where the mood of the crowd turned and everything grew desolate and uncertain, onscreen and off, the sheet-metal glare off the patio glass fading to gold and then gray, long shadow and night falling into desert stillness, a sadness I couldn’t shake off, a sense of silent people filing toward the stadium exits and cold rain falling in college towns back east…

Never mind that college games happen on Saturday for the most part; you still have here a beautifully gloomy little snapshot of that autumnal bleakness that always seems to hover around the game.

 

Athletic Pursuits: NFL Fans Staying Home

On a list of priorities for the nation, the future viability of its pro football ranks no higher than the success or failure of any comparably-sized business. Of course, the importance of the sport and the continuing placement of certain of its franchises in particular areas has an emotional hold on people that goes well beyond the strictly financial (jobs/tax revenue that could be lost if a team were to move away or just fold).

Given how high pro football rates in the American psyche as a barometer of national awesomeness (right up there with the military and our ability to keep producing great apps), then, it’s something of a surprise that the NFL has been facing a problem over the past few years: declining ticket sales. Chalk it up to the recession or just the ever-increasing verisimilitude available via digital broadcast, but fewer and fewer people are coughing up money to actually see a game live. But instead of saying it’s for the reasons listed above or maybe that there’s just too many teams, Gilded Age-style ticket prices, and too many other sports to follow, some people are drawing a different conclusion.

Take this quote from Scott Rosner, a sports-business professor at the Wharton Sports Business Initiative:

Across all sports, leagues and teams need to do a much better job of entertaining people who go to the game.

This may be naivete speaking, but isn’t the game supposed to be the entertainment? (That and the $12 Bud Lights, of course.) If people don’t want to see a game, no manner of clowning half-time shows or Jumbotron inanity will bring them to the field. At least, one would hope not.