Friday, March 24, 2006

On Lawn Tennis In The Modern Cinema


A Few Observations On Lawn Tennis In The Modern Cinema
By Major L. R.“Reggie” Pettifinger-Nabakov (rtd) - The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

First of all, I wish to cordially thank Miss Boynton for letting me use her URL blog net site to advance a certain proposition that’s been preying on my mind of late. I don’t mind saying it’s actually damned sporting of the gel, given our recent little contremps over access to the “special” files of the Club’s photographic archives.

Now, I suppose I should cut to the chase. I often take the opportunity when the good lady is out for her bridge night to get an old chum or two over, open a few decent bottles of Beaujolais and the Cockburn’s, rustle up something from the pantry, crumble a bit of that dried herbal material I often confiscate off the ballboys into my pipe, and settle back to enjoy a good sporting film on the Digital Versatile Disc Player.

However something has struck me of late during these evenings. Why is it that it’s the Yanks who make all the good sporting flicks nowadays? For example, we were watching “Any Given Sunday” just the other night. Still couldn’t make head or tail of how the bloody game is played but by crackey that Stone chappie made it all look awfully exciting.

So I said to myself “Reggie, why the blazes aren’t we seeing films like that about lawn tennis.” I mean the game has so much there for dramatic and cinematic purposes. It is full of great personalities dueling in a small and clearly defined arena. It throws lithe sweaty men and women together on and off the court. And there’s simply oodles of money, glamorous locations and positive acres of tanned flesh on display.

Not to mention the fashion. If only my old oppo Teddy Tinling was still around. Queer as a coot of course but bags of fun and with a real eye for how the ladies could be becomingly clad. He would have reveled, absolutely reveled in the opportunities afforded by the modern game to dress one of those Williams lasses or this new crop of nubile young Smashanovas.

(Ahem…the bowl of my pipe appears to have caught on fire. Excuse me for a just a tick.)

That’s better. Where were we? Ah yes. Why are there no decent films about lawn tennis? Damnit, if you can make golf sexy on screen then why not the only game where love is a score! Heh, heh. Good one! Even if I say so m’self.

Yes, yes, there have been a few attempts like “Players” with Dean Sinatra’s son and that recent “Wimbledon” movie which was downright namby-pamby. That Miss Dunst is no Gussy Moran. And Mr Bettany is no Navratilova either let me tell you. I also understand Mr Allen has just made a film called “Match Point.” But let’s face it, his earlier motion pictures are always funnier.

Look, I’ve thought about this conundrum and jotted down a few notes I’d like to share with you. Basically it’s all about stroke production and ball control. (Yes, very bloody droll Archie. Now belt up and open another bottle, there’s a good chap. I’m trying to type on the Personal Computer here and it’s thirsty work I can tell you.)

You see, in sports like baseball, golf or American Football, it is the ball that is in motion and not the player. Yes, they run around an awful lot in the Gridiron game but they are carrying the pigball almost all the time. Except when the quarter wallah throws or kicks it. But only when he’s stationery.

Stationery! That’s the secret. Oops, I meant stationary. Y’see, you can get any old bod to look convincing on film if they’re just hitting or throwing from an immobile position. Just matter of coaching, posing, appropriate body language and editing.

But when both the ball and player are in rapid motion, it gets much trickier. The human brain is an absolutely superb computer, far superior to any gunnery calculator that I’ve been warned away from playing with. It can instantly assess velocity, vector and temporal and spatial awareness, fit that data into tactical and strategic appreciations of the situation and respond in milliseconds while also keeping the sponsors’ shirt-borne logo in frame. But this takes years and years of hard won skill based on relentless practice. Or if you are an Australian, apparently being raised in a paddock or on an antbed.

And we see such skills in action on the box so often. All the ball and net cams, slow motion replays and zooming cameras have made us intimately familiar with how a good tennis player goes about their job of work. Or a cricketer for that matter, another sporting type sadly absent from the modern cinema. Which is noteworthy too in the context of my argument, given that the subcontinent alone is home to over a billion people whose main passions are cricket and the flicks.

(Archie, watch it. You’re treading stilton into the carpet. Clean it up now or Lucinda will have my guts for garters.)

Look basically I think it boils down to this. No strolling player or Hollywood mummer is going to be able to produce a convincing service action, a deftly flicked half volley, a backpedaling smash or a whipped crosscourt forehand on the run unless they have actually spent at least a decade practicing this kind of thing.

Yes indeed I agree they can do amazing things with computers on screen these days. Why only recently I watched some of those Matrix productions that seem to be all the rage among my nephew’s set and I could swear it seemed Mr Reeve was actually acting at times.

But with an extremely mobile sporting discipline like tennis, utterly dependent on sequences of highly complex physical actions performed very fast on the run, and where we are so often exposed to the real thing, I do think that any discernable false move on court immediately undercuts your character’s raison d’etre for appearing as the central figure in a lawn tennis-oriented photoplay in the first place.

But look here chaps, this is just a theory and I would be happy to enter into any correspondence about the matter.

Now I really must return to the box as Archie says he has a new sporting Digital Versatile Disc I really should see, called behind “Behind The Green Door”. It sounds like it must be about billiards or some such.



Antony Smythe.T said...

Reggie, old cock, remiss of you to exclude those spiffy sequences from Strangers on a Train. Guy Haines, now he wasn't quite your Tilden - off the court, either, if you know what I mean, children - but he bounced around the sward rather neatly. Lovely forehand, sloppy backhand, and a little too easily distracted by the crowd, for me.

Were he still ogling blondes and knew you'd left it out, old Hitch would be mighty batey.

Juke said...

Althea Gibson, of New York, reaching high for shot during women's singles semifinal match against Christine Truman, of England, in All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, England, July 4, 1957

Gummo Trotsky said...

That second picture looks a lot like Jacques Tati in Hulot's Holiday - surely the definitive cinematic treatment of the game of tennis.

boynton said...

Yes - the shadow is very Hulot
(I must watch it again to check its lawn tennis cred.)

Brownie said...

Drat! No link for 'Green Door' Reggie?
Second Serve (1986)the Renee Richards biopic is probably more about sex than serving, but imdb says
'Hard Fast and Beautiful', 1951, Directed by one of my favourites: the totally sexy and beautiful Ms Ida Lupino, "never deviates from it's sports theme".
You must have been oblivious to the film there in the backrow of the flicks in 1951 eh Reggie?.

Major Nabakov-Pettifinger said...

Dammnit you insolent young pups - which bit of "modern cinema" don't you understand?

I'm talking about motion pictures made in the last 40 years!

In colour!

With sound!

Major Nabakov-Pettifinger said...

By the way, "Behind The Green Door" is not about billiards at all. Bless my cotton socks no.

However Archie assures me that another Digital Versitile Disc he's laid his hands on, "Debbie Does Dallas" is this time a genuinely fascinating expose of ancillary sporting activities in a major sporting code.

boynton said...

Maybe it was the vintage pics that made us think pictures instead of movies in the multiplex era?...

Also - could it be that all the hours of sports broadcasting has made us equate elite with credibility?
Or beyond cred, does tennis at any standard sub the Pro circuit seem only social and somehow hokey, like the funny veterans in a charity match exchanging volleys with Crazy John?

boynton said...

err - that now reads as if I'm merely restating your argument.

I meant it's not just beliveability that may be a problem but the engagement factor in anything less than tennis served at the top level, that we are used to seeing.
After endless summers of grand slam, is lollypop compelling on the big screen?

Anonymous said...

should have done it sooner

Baseball Launches Steroids Probe

boynton said...

Will a Tennis ball launch such a probe?

Watched Mr Hulot's Holiday again last week. As well as Tennis its treatment of hotel Table Tennis is definitive.

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