Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Modern Football (1951) ***

NR, 26 min.
Director/Writer: Robert Altman

This little movie has been sweeping the web over the past few days. What makes an instructional industrial designed to recruit kids to play high school football in 1951 that was sponsored by Wheaties and Wilson Sporting Goods so special? The simple reason is that it may very well be the first movie ever directed by master filmmaker Robert Altman.

Altman is the directing legend responsible for such cinematic classics as “M*A*S*H”, “McCabe & Mrs. Miller”, “ Nashville”, “The Long Goodbye”, “The Player”, and “Gosford Park”. Altman got his start directing industrials such as this one before moving on to television for 20 years and then feature films. His movies are distinguished by his frequent use of large casts and overlapping dialogue.

While “Modern Football” doesn’t have any specific signatures of Altman’s later film work, it is a surprisingly innovative industrial in terms of artistic style. There’s a wonderful shot right in the beginning of the short film where Altman zooms in on the logo for the High School Athletic Association on the arm of a letterman’s jacket. The football sequences also show a profound understanding of the game. This is knowledge that served Altman in directing the football game for the movie “M*A*S*H”.

For a current modern football fan, this movie is also fascinating to see for the not so modern practices that were standards in football in 1951. Many of the rules and terminologies from that time period have changed. I saw a few I’d like to see brought back. There were many that were just humorous, while others are still quite common in the day today.

“Modern Football” certainly isn’t a film announcing the entrance of a man who will eventually become one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live, but it’s a nice time capsule. Watch it below.

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