Direct Cinema and Sports
Direct cinema has the ability to manipulate people into believing and appreciating a cause many would initially scoff at while remaining true to direct cinema’s approach of a more observational study of real people, events, and objects through the means of creative control filmmakers have on a documentary. Director Seth Gordon’s The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters acts as direct cinema, a type of ethnographic cinema in which the documentary focuses on specific persons or cultural revelations which appear invisible to the mainstream culture. In regards to Seth Gordon’s film, the battle over the highest score for an old arcade game like Donkey Kong remains mostly irrelevant in today’s popular culture. The beauty of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters as direct cinema, though, comes from its undeniable power to influence any person viewing the documentary into gaining an understanding for the subject matter while revealing the truth behind said subject matter.
Sharon Zuber critiques direct cinema by characterizing its effect on audiences through its techniques and practicality. Zuber recall past directors’ use of handheld cameras to “capture reality spontaneously, to put a viewer in the moment” while employing their creative stamp on the viewer’s experience. Filmmakers like Albert Maysles and Robert Drew act as the observers and capture the truth of subjects. For The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters director Seth Gordon and his crew also act as the observers and record the truth behind the competition between Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell. Though, a concern with direct cinema involves subjects acting up in front of the camera compared to behaving naturally off camera since the prospect of being on a feature film could promote unnatural behavior from the subjects. In The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, for instance, Billy Mitchell and his accomplices act cautiously and sneakily while in front of the camera implying that Billy could be plotting something wrong or indecent. Also the director’s decision on including specific scenes could influence audiences’ feelings towards Billy while Billy could have been a much more decent and friendly person towards Steve, but for Hollywood purposes Billy needed to behave like a villain to help gain interest in the documentary. In the end, the audience affects the final film in terms of the familiar structure of winner versus loser while the film in turn affects the audiences’ attitude towards the narrative into actually caring for Steve the underdog and despising Billy the crook.
Aaron Taylor also writes about the purpose behind direct cinema through its observational style of filmmaking. Taylor rants about how “Observational filmmakers seek to record their subjects candidly in the hopes that a social actor will reveal a truth about his/her situation…” while attempting to remain anonymous in the face of their subjects. The problems of direct cinema are also described in terms of how the subjects are unable to control their representations in the final film with the audiences believing the film. As suggested earlier, Billy Mitchell could have acted nicer to Steve Wiebe behind the scenes of filming The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters while in the actual documentary Billy is portrayed as the sleazy champion of Donkey Kong who will remain number one at any cost. Taylor differs from Zuber, though, by stating there’s a bond between the audience and the subjects provided by the filmmakers in creating a responsibility and responsiveness the audience shares with the subjects through direct cinema. It’s the filmmakers’ duty to construct the social interaction between the subject and audience while implanting his or her creative mark on the film.
Dave Hoskin expands the idea of how filmmakers take responsibility in creating a bond between the subjects and audience through direct cinema in that the documentary could trick people into believing and appreciating a cause many would deem to be unimportant or absurd in practical terms while presenting the material in a very observational manner. Hoskin emphasizes the irony “that The King of Kong is a film that is explicitly about how people perceive importance” when reviewers laugh at the documentary’s ridiculous concept of adult men compete on old arcade cabinets for the glory of the highest score or sympathize with the film’s essential subtext of being able to regard a person with respect no matter what his hobby is. Many don’t realize the true meaning of director Seth Gordon’s documentary hidden underneath the shell of a sports film since protagonist Steve Wiebe is carefully drawn out as the underdog preparing to face off against the remaining Donkey Kong champion Billy Mitchell. The documentary, though, actually reveals significant depth to classic arcade gaming competition with insight on the rules and regulations provided by Twin Galaxies, the scorekeepers. On top of the hours of footage waiting to be seen, Twin Galaxies must be able to trust the arcade gaming contenders in playing fair or just like the person well enough.
Seth Gordon’s documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters plays out as direct cinema/cinéma vérité in that the documentary films real people and events in an observational manner in order to represent reality truthfully. The documentary’s final perception can be muddled with by the filmmaker’s creative decisions to include or exclude certain scenes while audience film preferences could also shape the final film product in terms of genre conventions and an easy-to-grasp narrative. Moviegoers tend to enjoy the simple good guy versus bad guy, so the documentary was organized into a winner-versus-loser narrative. The documentary, on the other hand, influences the audience’s view of the characters and story into truly caring about the outcome regardless of its subculture context. Even with those pitfalls of direct cinema, along with the risk of subjects consciously aware of the filmmakers following their every movement, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters revels in its power to spellbind audiences into developing compassion for the main subject Steve Wiebe and the subculture he participates in due to the techniques and methodology of direct cinema.