Director Adam “MCA” Yauch slam-dunks his basketball documentary through the hoop while tearing down the basketball-documentary genre backboard down with his triumphant and innovative film, “Gunnin’ For That Number 1 Spot” (Movie Review)
Director Adam “MCA” Yauch slam-dunks his basketball documentary through the hoop while tearing down the basketball-documentary-genre backboard down with his triumphant and innovative film, “Gunnin’ For That Number 1 Spot” — Friday, July 11, 2008 – – by Wow Jones
In his new film “Gunnin’ For That Number 1 Spot”, filmmaker Adam “MCA” Yauch profiles eight highly touted
high-school basketball players from all over the country as they prepare for and play in the 1st Annual Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic exhibition game in Harlem’s famed Rucker Park. They are:
• Coney Island, New York’s Lance Stephenson,
• Baltimore, Maryland’s Donte Green
• Oregon’s Kevin Love
• Upper Marlboro, Maryland’s Michael Beasley
• Medford, Oregon’s Kyle Singer
• Arizona’s Jerryd Bayless
• Chester, Pennsylvania’s Tyreke Evans
• Compton, California’s Brandon Jennings
In a departure from filmgoers expecting to see an updated version of Hoop Dreams; director Adam “MCA” Yauch
breaks ankles with basketball buffs/moviegoers’ expectations. He instead delivers a soaring meditation on that ole’ American pasttime – – the spectacle of athletic competition and offers his take on 21st century popular sports lore/mythmaking. Of course, all that leading to dreams of american celebrityhood.
In pointing out Adam Yauch’s many innovations here, it’s important to note what “Gunnin’ For That Number 1 Spot” is NOT; namely a mosh-pit for stereotypical depictions of Black athletes as was the case in the overrated and overpraised 1994 basketball documentary Hoop Dreams.
As I recall, you never really got a sense of who the Hoop Dreams basketball players William Gates and Arthur Agee were as people or even personalities. The boys in Hoop Dreams were devoid a social life or sexual life, they weren’t allowed to talk about their talent, their views on playing, or whatever “skills” they may have had. In Hoop Dreams, they were shown playing basketball and that’s about it. In Yauch’s film, there’s MUCH more and that perspective is KEY to understanding the marvel that “Gunnin’ For That Number 1 Spot” is.
Am I saying that “Gunnin’ For That Number 1 Spot” is even BETTER than Hoop Dreams? Hell yeah, it is. How so? Well…
Whether its Upper Marlboro, Maryland’s Michael Beasley horsing around with a camcorder in his hotel room, or Arizona’s Jerryd Bayless doing yoga (!!!), the viewer is offered constant hints to the personalities of these athletes and if you’re paying attention and thinking while watching, the suggestions these clues provide are enough. For example, check out what happens when Michael Beasley gets in another player’s face in mock toughness. The player lurches forward as if to punch him and Michael Beasley shrinks back before they both collapse in jokey giggly laughter. Who hasn’t seen that scene played out in playgrounds across the nation?
As Adam “MCA” Yauch’s documentary unfolds before you, it quickly becomes evident that the prospect (and challenge) of filming and profiling these basketball phenoms thrilled him. In fact, it sets Yauch’s brain spinning. Like the fish-eye lens helicopter overhead view over Manhattan that transitions and introduces the viewer to NYC – – its delirious, constantly evolving and ever-expanding; even if it looks like you’re looking down at a gigantic, moving, metal-porcupine or a transforming Chia Pet with skyscraper-tall, steel-grey “leaves”. As noted above, there are a LOT of athletes to keep track of but as in a Robert Altman film, Adam Yauch and his fastbreaking, filmmaking team explore and touch on what makes the many athletes in this film special—and human.
As a founding member of the rap-rock group The Beastie Boys, its not surprising that Adam “MCA” Yauch displays such
exquisite selection in the song choices for his film’s soundtrack. The songs slam and JAM. What is revelatory (and instructive) though is that the music serves so many functions in this documentary. It ain’t just background music. The songs serve as transitions between scenes (during a scene where a tour bus speeds through midtown Manhattan—the Africa Bambaataa And The Soulsonic Force song “Lookin For The Perfect Beat” had me happily wiggling in my seat), wittily introduce some of the players (I dare you to sit still when the Public Enemy song that introduces Jerryd Bayless roars through the movie theater speakers), the expressive use of popular music here help cleverly set the mood (note the song used when the players stand at attention during a jump ball moment), tone and pace of the movie. The song selection also demonstrates Adam “MCA” Yauch’s fascination, fondness, and love for the culture that he’s examining/displaying/documenting and boy is his enthusiasm infectious.
The SOUND along with the popular music is expressive as well. Sounds like thunder claps and the isolated sound of a basketball bouncing on pavement are striking. Upon hearing the familiar subway chime and train conductor announcement to “Watch the closing doors”’ I applauded at the mere inclusion of such an evocative sound that anyone who’s been to New York City can relate to. Kudos to Al Zaleski’s sound design.
Director Adam Yauch introduces each player by showing the results of their Google searches: we see their internet player profiles, website scouting reports, youtube clips, (sports and basketball) magazine articles, blogs, and cute deluxe basketball cards made specifically for the film. In a nice touch, the cards fill the screen Brady-Bunch style and hint at the omnipresent scope of the documentary. We then see each player with their families and friends while on their home turf.
Its in these profiles where we begin to unravel the mystery of each players persona. We soon see that these guys come from a diverse set of backgrounds and at times these backgrounds are in stark contrast to the public perceptions of basketball players. On the one hand, Kevin Love has a father who played in the NBA and an uncle who was a Beach Boy. On the other hand, Kyle Singler played and excelled at baseball, football and track before deciding to commit to playing basketball. While quiet Tyreke Evans is for the most part spoken for by his older brother Eric “Pooh” Evans; Jerryd Bayless is…while he isn’t glib (yet), he’s clearly comfortable talking to the camera and expressing himself. Even there though Jerryd’s had some help (while at a press conference announcing what college he’s going to attend, Jerryd’s father reminds/advises Jerryd to “look up when you talk”) – – actually, guidance – – the inclusion of which by Adam Yauch is an innovation.
Director Adam Yauch also
takes notice (and shares with the audience) of how these children must figure out a way to navigate through the murky, precarious world of basketball – – and are AWARE of that. We see a parade of agents, sneaker company reps, coaches, scouts, media figures, even NBA superstar players like Ben Gordon, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. The children hint at the temptation this environment offers and I wondered, how will they fare in an environment that looks to exploit them while celebrating them?
The “drama” in this narrative is not only in seeing how these players play under the brightest spotlight of their young lives but; will they be able to make names (cement their reputations) for themselves? Will they get any ooohs and aaahhhs (put on a good show and provide everlasting memories) from the crowd? Finally, will they earn immortality? They’re all probably thinking, “if I got the skills to pay the bills, how do I blow up?”. Celebrity-dreaming at its finest.
It’s a kick to listen to basketball aficionado (and Hip-Hop Renaissance Man) Bobbito Garcia make his contribution to basketball lore. Part court-jester, part master of ceremonies, part announcer, Bobbito Garcia is
an invaluable part of what makes this exhibition so unique. He’s the pseudo-judge, jury and executioner in this basketball court of public opinion. As the kids play and compete; Bobbito gives each player nicknames as they speak with their basketball talent. Kyle Singler (whose seemingly effortless glides to the hoop have a special charm) earns the nickname(s!!!) “Wireless” “Shampoo” and “The Wig” from a hilarious Bobbito Garcia. And there isn’t a more appropriate moniker to go by than Lance Stephenson’s “Born Ready”. Are you starting to see how stars are “born”?
The action is seen from many angles and shown in sped-up or slow-motion. Another title of this film could have been “Awesome, Did You SEE That!?!” The process by which these players join the fabled Hall of Fame (or Shame) is memorable – – and leads to an unforgettable, thrilling movie experience. Don’t miss it. By the way, I don’t get to see that many documentaries, but this is by far the best HD video to 35mm film transfer I’ve EVER seen in a documentary. Wow.
–The Wow Jones Report
P.S. Here’s a movie review of “Gunnin For That Number One Spot” that I liked.