Fighting, hoping, hating, dying,… great sports movies are far more than the sport itself. Here is the list of top ten sports movies of all time.
Lindsay Anderson brought to bear on his adaptation of the first novel of David Storey, all his poetic-realist instincts had been honed as a documentarian in the Humphrey Jennings mold for the previous decade. (In 1953, Lindsay Anderson had won the best documentary Oscar for Thursday’s Children.) Filmed partly in Leeds and Halifax, but mainly in Wakefield Trinity Rugby League Club, one of the incidental attractions of this movie is its record of a northern sports culture which would change out of all recognition over the next decades.
The story of miner Frank Machin, who becomes a star on the rugby field, knowing that he is the disposable property of his club, and a great ape on a football field by his lover, is told in a stream-of-consciousness style, using the most inventive editing by Peter Taylor. Perhaps, This Sporting Life, produced by Karel Reisz, was the last gasp of the northern kitchen-sink boomlet which was inaugurated by Room at the Top and climaxed with the Saturday Night and Sunday Morning of Reisz. Its failure at the box-office was the reason why producers withdrew from the genre.
Nonetheless, this is the artistic pinnacle of the movement, which features Denys Coop’s marvelous black and white cinematography, and performances which are still shattering to witness. Harris was back from Tahiti, played opposite Marlon Brando in Mutiny on the Bounty, and he abhorred Brando, however, the cursed and luckless shirt number 13 Machin is as Brando-esque a performance as British cinema has produced.
And although the rugby scenes take up little screen-time, they are violent, vivid, and frenetic, with crowds of working men who are roaring on the touchline. The last match, with Harris black with mud, emotionally destroyed, and physically exhausted, is filmed just like a day on the Somme.