Monday, 30 November 2015

Manziel vs Osweilier

It is funny how the NFL has this unique ability to have continual narratives, even when you are nowhere near the field of play.

On Tuesday, the Cleveland Browns took the necessary step to strip Johnny Manziel of the starting QB role he was given the week before the bye week. During said bye week, Manziel three months after a 10 week spell in alcohol rehabilitation was seen at a club in Austin, Texas dancing with a DJ and clutching a champagne bottle.

The Browns took the step to reinstate Josh McCown as the starter for the Browns versus Baltimore on Monday night. While this can be considered another chapter in the hyperbolic life of Johnny Football, it should be the last episode of his time in Cleveland.

Cleveland should cut their losses and cut him from their franchise at the end of the season. Manziel needs to find his place somewhere else in the NFL, learn the craft and also become a better person off the field.

In a lot of the analysis I have witnessed, one statement stands out. No other sporting role in modern day America requires a greater level of professionalism than that of NFL QB as leader both on and off the field.

Antonio Pierce stated that the locker room believes in Eli Manning due to the way he carried himself off the field. Scott Van Pelt was interviewing Cam Newton on his show, live from a Thanksgiving Jam that Newton’s Foundation was hosting. This is a free meal paid for by Newton for the community of Carolina, on a Monday night three days from their next game on the road at Dallas. What character to still host an event such as that during a short week. In the interview, Newton stated that the reason for Carolina’s 10-0 start was a healthy locker room in mind and body.

An interesting comparison to Johnny Manziel is that of Brock Osweilier who started his first NFL game at Chicago on his 26th birthday. Think about that, your first NFL start on the road on your birthday replacing an injured legend in Peyton Manning.

Osweilier did well, he had no turnovers and showed flashes of a good arm especially the TD pass to Cody Latimer that proved the winning pass. But it was his presence and composure that helped the team, Osweilier is 6’ 8” a specimen and an archetype of confidence. Also his post game interview showed a level of maturity beyond his years, helped by his three years sitting behind Peyton and learning how to not just be a sportsman but representative of the team and the league. The first thing Osweilier did was shake hands with the referee on Sunday, make friends on the way up as they will remember you on the way down.

That sort of maturation period is what Manziel required when he entered the NFL, he needed to hold a clipboard, wear a headset and learn. Manziel is small in size, nearly a foot shorter than Osweilier and whilst small QBs can succeed such as Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, those two have arm strength and good mechanics. Manziel made his name by improvising plays and extending plays when he could not find receivers; last year I wrote how I felt him sitting behind Brian Hoyer would not be such a bad thing, because Hoyer sat behind Tom Brady and this thing trickles down surely.

Manziel will still have a place in the NFL but he needs to know his place in the pecking order, he is a relief pitcher, a corner specialist in hockey. Manziel is someone you turn to in case you need something magical to happen, just do not expect the magic to always be there.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Stop Making Sense

STOP MAKING SENSE (Jonathan Demme, US, 1985)

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the seminal concert movie Stop Making Sense filmed at Patanges Theatre, Hollywood in December 1983, the film is released by Second Sight on DVD and Blu-ray on 16th November.

Conceived by front man David Byrne, the film begins with him entering the stage with a boom box and a guitar. He presses play, and begins a stripped back acoustic performance of Psycho Killer. Afterwards, one by one a member of the Talking Heads come to join him onstage as they play through their remarkable back catalogue.

Embracing the greatest of Hollywood musical conventions - let's put on a show in a barn - the concert starts with the hero alone performing and then one by one the troupe emerge to join him and embrace what he is doing. Byrne realises that the gig is one of of momentum and upwards to a crescendo, starting with slow songs and as the band gets bigger the sound gets bigger.

Rightly, this film is heralded as one of the great concert movies of all time. Oddly, there is another 1980s concert film in any list, that of Prince’s Sign O’ The Times from 1987, and in part you can see the influence of this film upon the purple wonder.

Gone are the silly backstage documentary and instead there is a determined focus on the performance and the performers.  If you have a front man, as intelligent as Byrne or as magnetic as Prince, who can hold the attention of an audience through any solo or dance number, backstage footage is redundant and unnecessary. In part, the dominance and ubiquity of Prince in the early 1980s has an influence on Talking Heads’ live performance.

The influx of funk and soul is epitomised by the cover of Al Green’s Take Me to the River, and the introduction of Tom Tom Club’s Genius of Love with the hip hop jam along with the shout out to James Brown makes sense and gives credence  to wearing your influences proudly due to the attempted band choreography and in unison harmonies.

There is an overriding sense of euphoria and joy in the concert from the performers across the board. It is helped by having in Byrne, a wonderful leading performance both artistically and vocally.

Byrne channels the great silent comedy performers of Keaton and Chaplin when he does his dance asides such as with the lampshade during This Must Be The Place, like Chaplin’s potato dance in The Gold Rush, it is seemingly a throwaway moment that is both special and hypnotic. Tellingly, during the same song the back projection behind the band has imagery on to it, was this the first time a band put up imagery as they played live making it a multi-platform event, check out U2’s Rattle and Hum for further evidence and influence.

Director Demme proves a useful foil for Byrne eliciting differing moods for certain songs from the
athletic Life During Wartime to the fear and horror of What a Day That Was, where the lighting of Byrne’s face paints him as a pastor giving a deranged sermon, earmarking his own Academy award winning work on Silence of the Lambs eight years later.

The film is not only the vanguard of filmed concert movies, it is a touchstone of influence and ideas. It remains seminal and memorable.