Go Tigers!
Docurama // R // $22.95 // September 24, 2002
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted September 19, 2002
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Having spent a few seasons on my high school football team (mostly on the bench, thank you very much) I thought I knew about the highs of victory and the lows of defeat. But our games were sparsely attended and never covered by any media. The Massillon Tigers, on the other hand, grace the front page of their local newspaper and often draw over ten thousand fans per game. Kenneth Carlson's Go Tigers! follows the team through one controversial season but in its attempts to show the incredible effect the team has on the local population it also exposes some of the darkness lurking in smalltown America.

Massillon, Ohio, seems to have nothing going for it. No one praises the town for anything other than its football team. Having won the state championship numerous times, the team is considered a pillar of the community. Locals sport the team colors on everything including tattoos, face-paint, and coffins. The players are treated like near-celebrities and the games are hotly anticipated.

But a number of factors put the game into a different light. One of the most surprising sequences shows a parentally-organized post-win party featuring the high school students drinking incredible amounts of beer and, in one unbelievable case, vomiting about thirty gallons of puke all over the floor. The film reserves judgement, which is good, but it is so worshipful in other instances that the scene plays more like a humorous endorsement. Frankly, these parents should be in jail.

Another sequence details the disturbingly common practice of holding back promising athletes for an extra year in 8th grade to give them an advantage of age and size when they join the high school team. How can it be that the adults involved - parents, school administrators, coaches - don't see anything wrong with this? The team also vehemently denies illegally recruiting one player from a neighboring high school but given the disgusting behavior of the team in other aspects there is no reason to believe their protestations here.

Couple this sort of thing with the total disregard that the parents have for their kids' educations (one mom practically brags that her doomed-to-failure kid, a team captain, will get no help from her preparing for the SAT) and the fact that the town, for all their bragging about living and breathing football basically abandon their team at the first sign of defeat, and you get a pretty disgraceful portrait of a subculture. When one motivational speaker compares the day of a big game to the Jewish holiday of Passover (which celebrates freedom from centuries of slavery) he reveals the ignorance that so many of his neighbors seem to have internalized. No one in the film has any sense of perspective, save a couple of "outcast" students who want nothing more than to get the heck out of Massillon.

Go Tigers! takes pains to not be overly judgmental. The Moby-scored games are edited for maximum drama and many of the more telling statements are allowed to pass. Carlson never dwells on any topic for too long, which is a clean way to avoid controversy. (Plus he barely mentions the blatent racial weirdness in the town.) It feels like a more serious-minded piece could really explore the truth behind the scenes of Massillon's obsession. For example, when the wrangler of the team mascot, a tiger cub named Obie, states that the current Obie is their thirtieth in as many years no one thinks to ask what happened to the other twenty-nine. Are there abandoned tigers roaming the streets of Massillon or is the destiny of the town's beloved mascot messier than that? Wouldn't want to find out that our precious Tigers are anything less than perfect, would we?

Disappointingly, Go Tigers!, which was shot on video, isn't presented here in the film print that IFC Films showed in theaters. The video-to-video transfer makes Go Tigers! look like a moderately well shot home movie. The picture is sharp but totally anonymous and lacking drama. It is non-anamorphic widescreen.

The packaging incorrectly states the sound as Dolby Digital 5.1. It is actually 2.0, and a weak, muddy mix at that.

Go Tigers! features a number of special features. An interview with NFL player and Massillon alumnus Chris Spielman that was not used in the film is here, as are a number of deleted scenes. A complete 1951 newsreel on the Tigers that's glimpsed at the beginning of the film is included in its entirety, as is a where-are-they-now update. Trailers and additional music are also included along with bios and other informational screens. None of the extras are really that exciting and they don't really add what the film is lacking.

Go Tigers! isn't a very in-depth documentary. It partially opens a number of cans full of worms that it isn't quite prepared to fully explore. The packaging compares Go Tigers! to the landmark basketball documentary Hoop Dreams, which followed two inner city kids through every aspect of their lives for five years. The makers of Go Tigers! didn't make that kind of commitment and subsequently don't get nearly as far below the surface. A really good documentary gets inside its subject and examines every aspect of it with a critical eye. Go Tigers! opens a lot of drawers but often only takes the slightest peek inside, where something like Hoop Dreams, a film that wallowed in the kinds of complexities that Go Tigers! avoids, is willing to get its hands dirty. Hoop Dreams is Gone With the Wind. Go Tigers! is an episode of Dateline.

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