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Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Steve Sabol: Filmmaker
At the risk of being branded a God-hating, America-bashing communist infidel, I must confess that I’m not much of a football fan. I’ll usually tune in a particularly compelling playoff game or two along with the Super Bowl – and followed the unfolding saga of Brett Favre’s late-career renaissance down the stretch a few years back – but my days of tuning in Monday Night football or spending every Sunday on the couch watching highly-paid mesomorphic mercenaries pound each other’s gray matter into mush on the gridiron are long gone. I can still watch a few minutes of a typical NFL game on Sunday, but don’t ask me to sit through the whole thing. The game itself just doesn’t interest me anymore.*
Still, there’s no denying the enormous impact Steve Sabol and NFL Films had on football, the NFL, and the shared culture of our country. Football may have come to dominate the stage of sports in America absent the aid of NFL Films, but it’s safe to say that without Sabol and his brilliantly innovative approach to covering games, that ascent would have been a lot less rapid. Even today, when I stumble upon an old NFL Films game film while flipping through channels, I have to stop and watch. The camera angles, slow-motion shots, editing, darkly emotional symphonic music and dramatic narration by the Voice of God combine to form an epic spectacle I simply must watch. I’m powerless against it. Steve Sabol found his niche early and stuck with it, a brilliant filmmaker who revolutionized the cinematic approach to covering America’s game.
While reading his obituary, I was surprised to learn that in addition to being a football fan and college player, he was an art major in school. Maybe that explains his deft touch with those game films, which – upon further mulling – remind me a bit of Leni Riefenstahl’s groundbreaking camera work and editing in “Triumph of the Will.” While Riefenstahl glorified the Third Reich and Aryan athletics, Sabol created wonderfully evocative and effective propaganda to glamorize the game of football. Leni Riefenstahl enjoyed a much longer life, and used her time on earth to explore a wider spectrum of artistic endeavors, but he deserves enormous credit as a filmmaker.
As a baseball fan, I can only imagine what might have happened if Steve Sabol had turned his considerable talent to America's ex-pastime instead -- and if so, baseball just might still be on top. In the right hands, such is the power of film.
* This is probably because I’m not a gambler. The prospect of betting on games (or anything else) does not speed up my heartbeat or quicken my pace – and most of the football fanatics I know (men and women) are very much into betting.