Indeed, Zidane’s dazzling and unerring footwork, his astonishing control of the ball, his instantaneous decision making–all exemplify his seemingly unremitting focus on the game even as they combine to keep the viewer perceptually on edge, as does the sheer violence of his high-speed physical encounters with rival players as they try to strip him of the ball and vice versa… Another factor in all this is Zidane’s physiognomy, not just its leanness and toughness, emblematized by his balding, graying, closely cropped skull, but its basic impassiveness…which adds to the impression of an inner ferocity that, not at all paradoxically–think of the great stars of classic Westerns–could scarcely be more photogenic. (To say that the seventeen cameras “love” Zidane is an understatement.)14
Gordon and Parreno’s film is an intricately choreographed ballet of admiration and disavowal. This beautiful portrait reaches towards something like the experience of keeping company with Zidane while he plays this match, but it is also a deep mediation on how Zidane is visibly “produced” as a spectacle by cameras, by radio and by television broadcasts. It is marked by a nearly painful awareness of how hard it is to see through the spectacle of the game. (The moodiness of the film is amplified by Mogwai’s deeply melancholic soundtrack.) As we watch Zidane move around the field in the early minutes of the film (and the game) his thoughts stretch across the screen. The player recalls his boyhood attraction to evening football telecasts: “As a child, I had running commentary in my head when I was playing. It wasn’t really my own voice. It was the voice of Pierre Cangion, a television anchor from the 1970s. Every time I heard his voice, I would run towards the TV as close as I could get, for as long as I could. It wasn’t that his words were so important. But the tone, the accent, the atmosphere, was everything.” Even Zidane’s primary scene, in other words, is not the sensual immediacy of the action on field, but of the television broadcast.
Zidane takes not desire as its subject, but the mediation of desire–not our desire for the man, but our desire for the image of the man. Zidane explains, “I love the idea of transmitting the image of the player, of this guy on the field that brings happiness to those looking at him.”15 When he plays now for the cameras, he knows he is on that screen, pulling another little boy towards him. In fact, that little boy is me. It is us. I notice how stiffly he walks, and I think I know how he feels–the sport is brutal on your hips.
While Zidane clearly cites Fussball wie noch nie (Football as Never Before) (1971), Hellmuth Costard’s “real-time” portrait of George Best as he played a Manchester united match against Coventry (a nearly Warholian film in both its simplicity and its erotics), Zidane‘s closest contemporary cousin is actually the YouTube football homage. Hundreds (if not thousands) of homemade compositions set the highlights and lowlights of a player’s career to pop songs. “Zidane–The Emotional Movie,” for example, created by “rapidwands/zizou312” and posted by multiple users on YouTube in 2007, scores clips of Zidane on and off the pitch (many of these are pulled from Gordon’s film) to the Timbaland/One Republic pop song Apologize, which then fades into the Sick Puppies song All the Same. The opening lyrics of the latter, painfully sincere rock ballad are: “I don’t mind where you come from, as long as you come to me.” Other Zidane homages draw their music from Coldplay (“Beautiful World”), Madonna (“Love Tried to Welcome Me”), and even The Spice Girls (“Viva Forever”). At last check, videos set to Madonna and The Spice Girls had recorded well over 100,000 views each. There seems to be no irony in the use of pop ballads sung by women to score montages produced largely by male fans, celebrating male athletes. If anything, these songs (culled from European pop radio playlists) are perfect vehicles for communicating the powerful longings that undergird world soccer culture.16These texts–Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait and Zidane-The Emotional Movie–are formally linked by their explicit deployment of what James Tobias describes as “the musicality of time based media,” and by the movement of sentiment along the currents of popular music.17 But Gordon and Parreno’s film is a big budget and highbrow translation of a popular, wildly sentimental and decidedly lowbrow hobby–in which the “art” is produced by the disavowal of the popular.18 Zidane elaborates on the spectacle which substitutes for the person, to allow for a viewing pleasure that might otherwise be too visibly queer. In doing so, the film raises the homosocial intensity of football culture by another factor–it repeats it, aestheticizes it, washes it clean, and makes it respectable. Yrsa Roca Fannberg’s watercolors recover this intensely visible and yet disavowed language of tenderness and passion–as well as its persistent citation of the feminine.
- Michael Fried, “Absorbed in the Action,” Artforum 45 (September 2006), 333-35.↵
- “L’impression d’etre Zidane sur le terrain” (interview between Zidane and Frederic Hermel), Zinedine Zidane: Un portrait du 21e siecle (Paris: Hors Collections Editions, 2006).↵
- The use of “feminine” genres of music to score homosocial celebrations of masculine prowess becomes less surprising when one learns that women comprise at least 38% of fans worldwide. See overview of SPORT+MARKT study in “Female fans can boost sponsorship during crisis,” International Herald Tribune (January 27, 2009).↵
- James Tobias, “Cinema, Scored: Toward a Comparative Methodology for Music in Media,” Film Quarterly 57:2 (Winter 2003-2004), 26-36.↵
- Taha Belal, in contrast, openly mines popular visual culture in his looped video compilation Renaldo Remix (2008). Belal directly appropriates clips from a series of viral homages to Cristiano Ronaldo’s footskills. The result is a mind-numbing repetition of Ronaldo’s flicks and stopovers scored by alternating strands of rock, techno, pop, rap and disco.↵