The world, as Alejandro Jodorowsky knows it, is not an easy place to be an original. An OG is lauded in the digiverse, but in the real world, being an OG is guaranteed pain. In 1971, when this certified lunatic and visionary director decided to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune to cinema, he was willing to go further than anyone had ever gone before to realise it. He had lined up an outlandish cast. It included Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and Gloria Swanson. The music would be imagined by Pink Floyd and Magma. For visual effects and character design he recruited the yet unheralded but brilliant Serrs HR Giger and Chris Foss. Jodorowsky didn’t want to create cinema. He wanted to change it.
His Dune never materialised (no studio trusted him), but his vision for a science fiction epic was realised (and has been realised multiple times over) by directors as varied as Ridley Scott, George Lucas, James Cameron and Nicolas Winding Refn. If it’s true that every great work of art ends one genre and lays the foundation for another then Jodorowsky’s idea for Dune broke the Hollywood mechanisation of feature cinema and paved the way for a new kind of mechanisation: the science fiction feature.
That’s the problem with genre cinema. It’s like inventing the wheel. You get one, and then you get them all. You roll on. Digression becomes absurd. Originality is problematic. Formula sticks.
Matchday: Inside FC Barcelona (available on the Discovery Plus app in India), sticks to a perfected formula. It is tiring, but never gets you tired. There is a magnificent irony that a club that prides itself on being more than just a club, has commissioned a documentary on being one. They aren’t pioneering anything anymore — not football tactics, not youth systems, ownership systems and not behind-the-scenes cinema.
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The series is about the ‘inner workings’ of the biggest football club in the world, with John Malkovich for voice over. Malkovich is like that tour guide you can’t quite brush off — simply because he reads from a script, by rote, and you know more about some things than he does. That is the problem. Everyone across the world knows the inner workings of FC Barcelona. It is the beauty of the Internet. Not a day goes without semi interested readers getting served a generous helping of Barcelona headlines on their phone. This may or may not be the biggest football club in the world, but when it comes to headline management, they are champions ten times over.
Having been spoiled by series’ like Sunderland Till I Die and Take me Home: Leeds United (or even the genre defining, All or Nothing: Manchester City) Matchday is a bit of a letdown. Blame it on the viewer here. This has been a tough year, with little to do but popcorn, surf the interwebs and stream shows. Watching documentaries about football clubs self immolate is self gratifying.
Marc Andre Ter Stegen is probably a nice guy (his gloves washing quirk is immensely relatable) but there is nothing in his interviews there that you haven’t read before. Sergi Roberto was almost a Madridista. Luis Suarez is a prankster. Gerard Pique is an elitist brat. And Sergio Ramos, in the words of Sergi Roberto, ‘is always using his elbows, man’. Think about it. Didn’t you know all this anyway? Is any of this new? Stop the postmodern epiphany. Things are new. This isn’t.
Which doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable. There are some great moments. There is one where a Catalan mother and Mancunian father watch their tall gangly son play in the park. The father is convinced the kid supports United. The kid pronounces that he supports the Catalans because ‘Barcelona are the better team now’. The father slumped in his seat when United were hammered 3-0 at the Camp Nou, the son saying simply, ‘they weren’t good enough’.
There is another great episode where Ernesto Valverde (the Barcelona manager when this was filmed. They’ve had 500 since of course) reveals his passion for photography. It is representative — of everything, the digital age, the obsolescence of romance, the necessity of impatience — when he complains about how long it takes to develop a film photograph. And then there is the great tragedy that is Espanyol, and Barca’s relationship with the club whose budget Pique says ‘is less than my personal wealth’.
Espanyol are gone. Relegated to the Segunda. Their derby rivalry now will be with Barcelona B. Explaining the intricacies of that league to an American audience — for whom this series is essentially made — is a Herculean task. Valverde explains it best. “If derbies didn’t exist,” he says, “they’d have to be invented”. He probably watches the Indian Super League (ISL). And the Indian Premier League (IPL).
In part, the faults of this series aren’t the makers’ fault. They aren’t faults even. They are just inadequacies. Details are glossed over. Facts are dumbed down. This is content for a new market of fans. Not ones that already exist.
Jordan Rules revolutionised sports writing. All or Nothing: Manchester City revolutionised the sports documentary. They launched their own array of imitators, simply because the market craved more. This is basic economics. None of those that followed were perfect. None will be. This isn’t art. This is design. Produced for purpose.
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Matchday is perfect for its genre. It tells you as much as you need to be told about the inner workings of Barcelona. You see Josep Maria Bartomeu coast in and out of the frame, hugging players, cozying up to administrators, setting up lunches and talking about the game. You know what he has done to this club, stripped away its originality and made it a weak imitation of another. You know the havoc he has wreaked on this club more than a club. This documentary won’t tell you that. As a filmmaker if you have this kind of access, the president has you in his pocket.
Watch it if you’re a Barcelona fan. Watch it if you’re a Messi fan —there’s enough times and enough angles to cover every superb touch he takes and every speech he makes. Hell, watch it because there’s very little else to watch. But remember that there will be a point in this documentary when Messi will snigger and say that all this fan drama, the booing, the spewing, the chanting and the hatred, it has its plus side. “Parte del football,” he will smile, “Del show.”
Now this kind of series is too.
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