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Sep 21, 2006

Capturing the Best

This weekend Zinedine Zidane will play at the Toronto film festival. But not as a genuine movie actor like former colleagues Eric Cantona and Laurent Blanc.

This is a more a tribute to the best player of recent times by directors Douglas Gordon and Phillipe Parreno.

'Halfway between a sports documentary and an conceptual art installation, Zidane consists in a full-length soccer game (Real Madrid vs. Villarreal, April 23, 2005) entirely filmed from the perspective of soccer superstar Zinedine Zidane', as IMDB.com informs us.

Twenty-seven cameras followed him for ninety minutes and that is what the movie goers will see. It will be released next week in the UK. A novelty? Not really. In the documentary Fussball wie noch nie German director Hellmuth Costard did the same 35 years ago. Though it never reached the box office.

Opening shot: George Best walks on the pitch. A camera zooms in on the two white stripes which form the number 11 on his red Manchester United shirt. He rubs his hands. Occasionally he flicks a ball, keeps it up a few times and then backheels it to one of his team-mates. A couple of shots on goal. After some minutes he hobbles over to the sideline. We hear a whistle and Best strolls carefree over the halfway line. Manchester United v Coventry City has begun.

Costard caused widespread consternation in the German art scene with his short debut film Warum hast du mich wachgeküsst (Why did you kiss me awake?) in 1967. With a moving camera the moviewatcher enters a room. In a mirror he witnesses how a young naked girl keeps the camera under her arm. She opens a drawer, leaves the camera inside and closes it. The spectator is captured in darkness. A masterpiece in only three minutes, according to the critics. When the employees of the theatre turned on the lights, the audience was outraged as they felt they still were in that drawer and now the spell was broken; avant garde cinema at its best.

2nd minute: Best runs deep and collects the ball just outside the box. He is brought down. Free-kick. Bobby Charlton and Best are waiting for the ball for the formation of the wall. Suddenly Best runs forward, Charlton passes but exactly on Best's heel. Coventry take over possession. In the following ten minutes we watch Best with his hands on his hips or making a couple of uninspired runs for the length of the field without ever being involved in the game.

On September 12 1970 Hellmuth Costard showed up at Old Trafford with a crew of six cameraman to make movie history. During the game between Man United and Coventry Costard wanted to focus all his cameras on one of football's greatest players of that moment. They were not allowed to shoot anything else. Best is caught in the frame for 95 minutes, including a section of half time, whether he is part of the action or not. Occasionally we see a Coventry player galloping along or the referee. Once in a while there is a team-mate, usually when play is dead. Apprently Best is not marked by anyone.

12th minute: Best receives the ball in his own half, goes past three men and hits a cross from the sideline. Immediately we can see players return towards the Manchester half.

14th minute: A Best-taken free-kick apparently launches another counterattack. It probably ended up in the wall. A po-faced Best watches his team-mates storm by. Then strolls quietly back to his own half.

17th-22nd minute: close-up of the upperpart of his body.

For most of the first half we hear the crowd until suddenly the soundtrack is taken over by a Bob Dylan song. Did Costard make a comparison between the rebellious protest singer, whose music reminds us of the political days of sixties, and the football icon that is George Best, who was the sporting image of swinging Albion or is it maybe an hommage to the brilliant documentary Don't Look Back by D. A. Pennebaker about the singer-songwriter?

'Well, no. I just liked the song', uncovered the director the mystery at a football film festival in Munich in 1998, when asked by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger of Soccernet fame.

Half-time and still no goals: Best walks inside. In the next shot he comes from a room somewhere in the stadium, walks up an escalator while turning his head to the camera. 'Am I doing alright?', his eyes seem to ask, being accompanied by waltz music. In some boot room there is a close-up of his face which takes about 90 seconds.

As a football fan and movie critic Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger sheds some light on Costard's place in the German film world.

'Heavily influenced by Fassbinder he was one of those leftist directors, cherished by the country at the start of the seventies. He made a great amount of progressive, politically challenging and, in hindsight, completely clueless and boring movies.

'His first longer flick was Die Unterdrückung der Frau ist vor allem an dem Verhalten der Frauen selber zu erkennen (1969), where a camera follows a woman during her work in the kitchen for an hour. It being avant garde, the woman is obviously played by a man.'

Second half: The cameraman from the lowest vantage point now regularly zooms in on socks, neck or trousers.

54th minute: Best walks back when an attack is seemingly broken down. A sudden run forward, he gets the ball, rounds the keeper and scores: 1-0. There was not a defender in sight during the whole scene. And we hardly see any ball during this second half.

'During my conversation with Costard on the podium the audience in Munich looked as bemused as they did during the movie.', remembers Uli.

'This man was pure avant garde and did not know anything about football. His choice for George Best was made mostly for his looks rather than his qualities as a player. Costard did not have any views on football and did not remember much about the making of the movie. That was an awkward interview in public, I can tell you.'

89th minute: A cross from Best brings excitement to the faces of the fans behind him. The camera does not move. Apparently it is not a goal as there are no celebrations. Best's expression has not changed since the kick-off.

90th minute: Best shakes hands with an opponent and makes a joke with another. Manchester United have won 2-0.


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