Believe it or not there was a time, not too long ago, when televised
bowling was watched by more people than professional football. In
it's heyday in the 50's and 60's the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA)
was widely followed in homes across the US, and bowling was the nation's
number one participation sport. The league fell on hard times though.
As the years went by, fewer and fewer people tuned in and in 1997 ABC stopped
airing their events after a 36 year run. Nearly bankrupt and facing
increasing apathy from the general public, the PBA was sold to a trio of
Microsoft executives in 2000 for a mere $5 million. They hired Steve
Miller, formerly of Nike, to run the league and bring the professional
sport back from the edge of oblivion.
Bowling in the late 60's/early
A League of Ordinary Gentleman is a documentary that chronicles
the 2003 PBA tour, as what's left of the PBA tries to instill some new
energy and vitality into the sport in order to appeal to a new generation
of viewers. The film starts out with a good history of the
PBA, from their inception in 1958 through their heyday in the 60's and
decline in the 90's. The film then profiles four bowlers and follows
them across the nation as they go from tournament to tournament witnessing
their struggles and hardships as well as triumphs before the climax at
the first ever World Championship.
The film focuses on four talented bowlers. There's the gentlemanly
Walter Ray Williams Jr. who is one of the top in the league and has made
a very nice living off of the sport. Pete Weber, bowling's bad boy,
is the son of a bowling hall-of-famer who was instrumental in forming the
PBA. He brings a flair and aggression to the game, taunting his opponents
before the match and slapping his critch with both hands when he bowls
a strike. Chris Barnes is a handsome young up and comer who has twin
boys and misses them when he's on the road. The last bowler they
profile is Wayne Webb the most interesting of the bunch. He's one
of the few bowler's who have earned over $1 million playing the game, yet
he's currently broke, been divorced multiple times, and has no family.
As he freely admits, he devoted his life to bowling but then pro bowling
all but dried up and died. He sees this season as his last chance
to make it back on top once again. With no education and no prospects,
there's not much more he can do.
The other person who plays an intregal part in the story is PBA CEO
Steve Miller. Early in the film before the season starts, he gathers
all of the PBA bowlers together and tells them how it is: The league needs
to get people interested in the sport and they need to get TV ratings.
He doesn't try to sugar coat the message and at one point in the film even
admits that he doesn't care what the player think. He's more interested
in pleasing the fans and the sponsors.
This was a surprisingly good film. The idea of a documentary on
bowling initially had me rolling my eyes and I figured that there would
be a lot of camp value in the movie, but I was wrong. They play it
straight, not making fun of the bowlers or their chosen profession, but
examining their life and how much the sport means to them. While
the film doesn't spend enough time with any one of the pros to really get
to know them intimately, it does provide a good profile of these people
and illustrates what they go through and the demands of the sport.
Though Pete Weber is very charismatic and Walter Williams seems like
a truly nice guy that you instinctively want to succeed, it was Wayne Webb
who really made the movie. He had been bowling and on the road for
27 years, and you could see in his face the toll that has taken on him.
Though a lot of the reason that he was in the precarious situation that
he found himself in was due to his own bad judgement, you couldn't but
feel sorry for the
man, someone who had real skill at the game, but was finding it more and
more difficult to make a living doing the thing that he loved.
This film comes with a DD 5.1 soundtrack that is very good. This
is a dialog driven movie and most of the sound is centered on the screen,
but the music in the film makes good use of the rear speakers. Being
a documentary, this wasn't recorded under the best circumstances possible
but the sound quality is still better than I would have thought.
The dialog is easy to hear even with the background noise due to the locations
and there isn't much distortion at all. A nice sounding disc.
The 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic image looked pretty good, especially
for a documentary. The colors were strong and the level of detail
was fine. There were a few problems though. The picture was
a little grainy in parts, mainly when they were shooting in dark bowling
alleys. This wasn't a very big flaw however. A more distressing
problem was the way the handled old TV footage. In order for the
entire film to have the same aspect ratio, they had to chop off the top
and bottom of the 4:3 TV broadcasts that were used in the beginning of
the movie. This meant that you could only see the top halves of logos
and peoples names that the network originally put on the image. I
think it would have been better to keep the original ratio of these vintage
images and just have bars on the sides.
There are a good number of extras on this disc There are over 16 minutes
of deleted scenes including a bowling music video which is pretty funny.
There are also some pretty entertaining PBA promos that ESPN ran during
the season, and some very impressive trick shots that some of the pros
preformed. Dexter Approach is a series of bowling tips presented
during PBA broadcasts. Four of these are included with this disc.
Four minutes of ESPN highlight clips and a theatrical trailer round out
the bonus material.
A surprisingly interesting and enjoyable film, this movie has a lot
going for it.. While I didn't walk away from this film with a love for
the sport, I do have more appreciation for the professionals who try to
make a living at it. It will be interesting to see if professional
bowling does become more popular over the next few years, and if the people
profiled in the film will be able to breath new life into the sport.
Even if you have no interest in bowling, the strength of the players personalities
and the unique situation they found themselves in make for a very good
film. It gets a strong recommendation.