A mostly successful portrait of the Norther Irish footballer explores his explosive sporting highs and dark personal lows.
Hailing from Belfast, he crossed the Irish sea and was playing for Matt Busby‘s Manchester United by the age of 17.
Then began a dizzy spell of sumptuous football: an FA Cup win for the club in 1963, two First Division titles in 1965 and 1967 either side of a famous performance in 1966 away to Lisbon’s Benfica, and then a dramatic European Cup win in 1968, again against the aforementioned Portuguese powerhouse.
Ironically, this win marked a gradual decline for both club and player as United did not win a league title for another 25 years and would only regain the European Cup in 1999.
As for Best, he would endure a shattering descent into depression and alcoholism, with parts of the British press painting him into a corner as a celebrity party animal.
He later said: “The whole thing became a total nightmare”
Although director Daniel Gordon adopts a mostly chronological approach, he doesn’t shy away from the pain of his private life that continued to dog him as he became a wandering footballer for hire in the USA and around the world during the 1970s and 80s.
Among a raft of smoothly edited archive footage, there are some key interviews woven throughout: a sad lament from close United teammate Paddy Crerand, plus testimony from former wives Angie and Alex, who reveal the tumult of living with Best.
The film doesn’t really go far enough in exploring the full extent of the physical and mental abuse he reportedly inflicted on them, but still deserves praise for getting them in front of the camera to broach the subject.
At the time of his death in 2005, Best was a forlorn figure who had undergone a liver transplant and yet still continued to drink.
One might have thought there was not much more to say about George Best. But for veteran observers or newcomers to his life and career, this is a solid place to start.
Martin Scorsese’s classic 1999 documentary on Italian cinema gets a welcome release on DVD this month.
In addition to being one of the great directors of his generation, Scorsese has long been a passionate advocate for cinema itself by making documentaries and helping create the World Cinema Foundation.
Given his wealth of knowledge and infectious passion, just watching this DVD is like attending a the best film class you never had and it’s worth remembering that after attending NYU, Scorsese remained there as a teaching assistant and eventually a professor of Film.
The elliptical appeal of L’avventura (1960) and Antonioni’s precise use of the frame
The dream-like appeal of Fellini’s 8½ (1963) which is like a ‘visual stream of consciousness that keeps the audience in a constant state of surprise’ and how it is the ‘purest expression of love for the cinema’ that Scorsese knows of.
These films might seem to some like ancient cinematic history, but their treatment of social issues have a new relevance in the current recession as people struggle with harsh economic conditions.
Modern versions of the young boy in Germany, Year Zero, the father and son in Bicycle Thieves and the lonely old man in Umberto D can probably be found in any modern city just some of the characters struggling to survive in a cruel world.
But most of all this is 246 minutes of one of the great US directors imparting his passion about some of the most important films of the 20th century.
If you care about the medium, then it is an essential purchase.
My Voyage to Italy is released on DVD by Mr Bongo Films on September 26th
Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the life and career of Ayrton Senna is a riveting portrait of the F1 driver.
Using only archive footage alongside voiceover contributions from those who knew and wrote about him, it constructs a compelling story of a sporting icon.
Beginning with his early career in Europe, it charts his rapid ascent to Formula One where he joined the McLaren team in the late 1980s and quickly established himself as a precocious rival to reigning world champion Alain Prost.
With judicious use of archive footage, which really comes alive on the big screen, it also covers the murkier politics off the track with former FIA boss Jean-Marie Balestre coming across as another rival to be beaten.
Although this will be devoured by motor racing fans, it also works as a fascinating introduction for those who know little or nothing about Senna and his impact on the sport.
Part of what makes it so exciting is his life story, which whilst not a rags-to-riches tale (he was from a wealthy Brazilian family), feels like the subject of an epic novel filled with memorable touches.
His iconic yellow helmet, loving and devoted parents, faith in God, millions he donated to charity, glamorous girlfriends and the driving skills which established him as one of the greatest racing drivers of all time are just some of the rich details which make up the story.
Assembled from hours of footage from various broadcasters and the F1 archives, the editing is frequently inspired, providing an unusual level of excitement for a documentary.
At one point we see some especially prophetic comments from Prost (“Ayrton Senna has a small problem, he thinks he can’t kill himself because he believes in God and I think that is very dangerous for other drivers”) as well as footage from family home videos.
Some of the internal F1 videos of driver meetings are an eye-opening glimpse into the world of a dangerous sport and Senna’s pleas for more safety add to the tragic irony of his untimely demise.
There are also astute voiceover contributions from journalist Richard Williams, F1 doctor Sid Watkins and racing commentators Galvão Bueno and John Bisignano which explain and illuminate his impact on the sport and his home country.
For director Asif Kapadia this marks a change from his previous feature films (such as The Warrior and Far North) but he seems to have a natural feel for the drama of real life and of the intense highs which sport can deliver to both participants and fans.
A subtle but atmospheric use of music augments the film nicely and the use of internal F1 footage of the drivers observing the horrific accidents during that fateful weekend in 1994 brings a new perspective to what would be a turning point the sport as a whole, as major safety changes were brought in following the crash that killed Senna and Roland Ratzenberger.
Although the exact cause of Senna’s crash at Imola still remains a mystery, it seems an unlikely confluence of events was ultimately to blame: the new rules imposed on the Williams car that season, an engineering fault, a previous crash at the start of the race and bad luck in how the car actually crashed on impact.
On paper this might sound like a film just for devoted F1 fans, but perhaps its greatest achievement lies in how it not only makes the races truly thrilling but finds universality in the details of a sportsman’s life.
After scoring major buzz at Sundance earlier this year, Universal and Working Title will be quietly confident that it finds a deserving audience hungry for engaging factual entertainment.
With the summer movie season fuelled by comic book fantasy, Senna provides a welcome injection of real-life drama and excitement.