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May 14, 2007 | by  | in Film |
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Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

Paramount Theatre May 4
directed by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno

On Friday May 4, Victoria University’s very own Adam Art Gallery took postmodern video art to yet another level. Featuring at Paramount Theatre was a film of 92 minutes of one particular day that would either be remembered or forgotten just like any other day. That day was April 23, 2005. On that day 17 35mm cameras were focused on one man, on one field, in one football game in front of thousands of people. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait by Douglas Gordon and Phillippe Parreno shows French football star Zinedine Zidane on that day up close and personal as Real Madrid played Villarreal in a Spanish League match.

The sole screening at the Paramount Theatre was packed out with an audience of soccer fans mixed in with the usual art house crowd. So sought after were the tickets that I had to resort to a lot of head butting, but I finally got one. As the lights dimmed the opening credits showed television pixels of the match as though the camera had been held in front of an old television set.

This helped set the scene of sporting and television postmodern deconstruction as voyeurism was taken to a new extreme.

What we ended up getting was a continuous long string of shots directly on Zidane as we watched him walk around, spit, pant, say “hey” a lot, and generally avoid doing much throughout most of the game except wipe his nose and pace himself as a veteran athlete. It was boring most of the way through and I caught my mind wandering as Scottish post rock band Mogwai provided very relaxing atmospheric background music to the feature. But it wasn’t all an exercise in tedium because after a slow first 40 minutes he would suddenly come to life every now and then to show glimpses of his talents when he couldn’t ignore the game any longer.

It wasn’t the most original film as it had been done before in 1970 with Football As Never Before when George Best was filmed playing for Manchester United against Coventry, but this time around there was a more postmodern context. In an age of celebrity that is full of stalkers it felt creepy at times watching Zidane up so close as though the camera were a pair of binoculars.

This made me feel a little like Robert De Niro in The Fan. Despite what the subtitles from Zidane’s sporadic and often pretentious subtitled commentary revealed this wasn’t about the game through Zidane’s eyes, but about watching him and missing the whole game entirely. There were moments of action, especially when Zidane burst up the left wing and did a cross kick which helped superstar Brazilian team mate Ronaldo score one of his usual spectacular goals.

Luckily, another superstar team mate David Beckham was hardly seen, which was refreshing as his media overexposure became tiresome a long time ago. Halftime was interesting as it broke away to show archival footage of what else had happened on that day and surprisingly it wasn’t all about Iraq. Frogs exploded, something happened in space and Elian Gonzales spoke on Cuban national TV. With an ambient feel and narration during this segment it helped place a different time context compared to the usual half time entertainment of cheerleaders, sumo wrestling and other random pitch activities. The camera then returned to the stadium and wandered through deserted corridors and wandered up into the main stadium and reversed the voyeurism as it focused in on some teenage fans and subsequently looked down at the pitch as the players returned.

This film was both fascinating and boring at the same time, it was postmodernism to the extreme. If you weren’t much of a football fan then you would have found it rather dull. During a break when the projector broke down two teens happened to be wandering out while whispering loudly “this film is shit”, which is the reaction some people have to soccer. Either you love football as the purists call it or hate soccer and watching one player with no context provided for the actual game being played was obviously enough to alienate some of the audience.

Despite wanting the film to either get more action packed or end, I still was able to see many ideas of media, celebrity, sport and art come through. These were sensed as a result of just watching Zidane’s every move and breath and not being able to move your attention to anything else. It did get a bit like A Clockwork Orange at times, but the cinematography and soundtrack that alternated from silence, to the blaring volume of the noise from the crowd and Mogwai’s soundtrack strangely managed to keep you wanting to watch.

Finally as a precursor to another day on July 7 2006 in Berlin, Zidane was red carded and sent off in dramatic fashion. That was just one random act of stupidity, one day, any other day that could be remembered or forgotten, 441 days before that one final head butt.

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