An initial brief history details the decline of bowling in past decades, culminating in ABC television discontinuing coverage of the sport in 1997. But then in 2000 three ex-Microsoft execs bought the Pro Bowlers Association (PBA) for $5 million with the idea of resuscitating the sport. They hired Steve Miller, previously Nike's Director of Global Sports Marketing, as CEO of the PBA. Miller is a no-nonsense, tough, foul-mouthed, organizer. He is quoted as saying that his main focus in on the sponsors and the audience and that he views the players as replaceable. Whatever you feel about Miller, he was successful in putting bowling back on the map, landing a TV contract with ESPN.
This documentary is not so much about bowling as it is about people. In addition to getting to know Miller we follow four pro bowlers during the 2002-2003 PBA tour season, leading up to the final World Championship. We follow Pete Weber (the flamboyant bad boy), Walter Ray Williams (the well-adjusted true pro), Chris Barnes (the rising young star), and Wayne Webb (rapidly becoming a has been). I was surprised at how much access the filmmakers were given to the people involved. Through interviews with them and their significant others, and watching their behavior on the lanes, we get to know them pretty well. We get beyond the usual, "I take it one day at a time," and "I give it my best every day." For example, consider this quote from Wayne Webb, "Giving your whole life to something, thinking it will never die, thinking it will never go bad, and then it does, and having nothing to back me up, no college, no other career to step into, then that part of it is the part that really hurts."
I found the reaction shots, where the camera would linger on a person who was not at the center of the action, to be very effective. The looks of frustration and dejection told us a lot. One of the most poignant scenes had Wayne walking alone across an empty parking lot to his car at night, after a loss.
Wayne confessed to having a gambling problem, but most all of these bowlers must be gamblers to some extent. They go to the tournaments and there is a very good chance that they will come away with no money and, given the costs to participate, they will lose money. A profession where you never know when you will get a reward is a risky one. The toll this lifestyle takes on the players and their families is well presented.
After hearing some of the language used by these players I have to question the use of the word "gentlemen" in the title. A more appropriate title would be, "A League of Ordinary Men."
The music adds a great deal to the proceedings. The use of some classical pieces by Mozart and Bach would seem an odd choice, but they were effective. And original music by Gary Meister complemented the moods of the film well.
I am an ex-bowler who used to bowl upward to fifty lines a week, so I know the appeal of participating, but I think the sport is always going to be fighting a stiff headwind as a spectator sport. For one thing, it is hard to view bowlers as athletes. A couple of the shots in this film were blocked by the enormous guts of some of the competitors. And many of the top bowlers seem to be in their 40s. Some aggressive young stars would help. Plus there is not much variety to keep your interest--it's just following the ball down the alley and seeing how many pins fall. The ambiance of a bowling alley is a bit dark and claustrophobic, especially compared to a golf course, or a baseball or football field. And it's frequently the case that the match play events are settled long before the tenth frame, so there is not much tension. It was fortunate that the final game in this movie went into the tenth frame.
I give this movie a lot of credit for its honesty and its production values. You would not have to be a bowler to find it interesting.
A League of Ordinary Gentlemen
Documentary / Sport
A League of Ordinary Gentlemen
Documentary / Sport
Tracing the historical arc of the professional bowling tour, the film includes archival footage from the sport's glory days in the 1950s and '60s, through its near extinction in 1997. The story takes a twist when newly installed CEO Steve Miller sets about modernizing the PBA. In addition to Miller, the chronicle focuses on four pro bowlers: Pete Weber, bowling bad-boy and son of legendary bowler Dick Weber whose conservative style doesn't jibe with the direction Miller is taking the new PBA. Pete's nemesis is Walter Ray Williams Jr., a straight-laced six-time world horseshoe-pitching champion and, with 36 PBA titles to his name, the dominant player on the tour. Also, there's Chris Barnes, a young father of newborn twins, who must leave his wife and sons at home and hit the road to compete for the winnings that his young family is depending upon. Finally there's Wayne Webb, a 20-time PBA champion who has fallen on hard times and hopes to squeeze one more good season out of his career to stave off bankruptcy.
October 07, 2022 at 05:37 PM