The Art of Soccer with John Cleese

Cleese seems to be well aware of his pandering, as he plays a caricature of himself.

The Art of Soccer with John Cleese

Director: Herman Vaske
Cast: John Cleese
Distributor: BFS Entertainment
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 2008
US DVD Release Date: 2009-01-27

In Billy Wilder’s immortal Sunset Boulevard, there is a famous scene in which Norma Desmond plays cards with the “Waxworks”, stars from the silent era who, like Desmond, have become antiques in a sound Hollywood. In a wan half-stupor they smoke and conduct bridge, shadows of a time gone by.

Like Gloria Swanson, who plays Desmond, the Waxworks are played by real silent film stars who found themselves unemployable in the new Hollywood: Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson and H. B. Warner. The scene resonates sadness across diegetic bounds and the entire ordeal is pre-eminently depressing.

Watching John Cleese in Herman Vaske’s piece, The Art of Soccer gets very close to a similar misery. Every so often the old Python is trotted out in set piece style as if to say, “Hey! This guy was funny. Isn’t our film hilarious now?” Unfortunately, much like Desmond and her waxworks, Cleese and his brand of humor no longer mesh terribly well with the modern climate of comedy. It isn’t so much that we have evolved past Python-esque British humor; it’s that comedy does not take well to regurgitation. Cleese’s mere presence suggests citation rather than inventiveness.

However, for what it’s worth, The Art of Soccer is awful all on its own. Co-written by Cleese, The Art of Soccer is phoned in from its script to its production quality. Shot on what appears to be a prosumer camcorder, the film is structured as an A-to-Z of soccer’s history. Each letter is introduced by a skit between Cleese and “Max” (Tom Konkle) in which Cleese gives a little background of some concept of soccer, makes fun of America’s Yankee oddities, and injures Max in some crazy antic. To say that the whole rigmarole seems forced would be a tragic understatement.

What’s worse is that Cleese seems to be well aware of his pandering, as he plays a caricature of himself. His British accent is emphasized, his face contorts wildly, and his movements are stiff as he mugs arthritically. Always the ham, Cleese seems to be bereft of all of the joy that made his characters so goofily loveable. Instead of the rapid pit-a-pat of his Python days, Cleese’s monologues are filled with one-offs begging for a rimshot.

The clips themselves of the aspects of soccer are not at all bad, though. As an elaborate highlight reel, The Art of Soccer succeeds nicely. The director marshals a fine cast of soccer stars, artists, and Henry Kissinger to interview about their love of the game. The editing is smooth and the clips of fantastically contorted headers, Baryshnikov-deft dribbling and goals of ambiguous physics are rewarding.

However, as it seems, every good idea in Soccer is glazed over with sophomoric filmmaking. At some point in the post-production, an avid colorist must have suggested that the interviews should be intermittently treated to look like they were shot on 16mm in a variety of poor film stocks and bad lighting conditions. This decision wouldn’t be so bad if it was at all consistent. Sometimes, Pelé looks garishly sharp in video and, at other times, he is blown out and almost sepia. The whole ordeal distracts from the few high points in this piece.

Finally, the A-to-Z format of The Art of Soccer makes it seem as if the film’s 118 minutes take ages. Somewhere around the time that Cleese subjects Max to his 12th pratfall, I found myself wondering, “We are only on G?” Any rhythmic consistency that the clips’ editing builds is shattered by the uninventive structure.

Sunset Boulevard is likely best remembered by the quotation, “I am big! It’s the pictures that got small.” For once, there is no question about whether the film is insignificant or the actor. In The Art of Soccer both Cleese and the picture trumpet irrelevance. Potential buyers would be better served by Youtubing “sweet soccer clips”. The quality would only be a little diminished and you would not be forced to sit through the Madame Tussaud ex-Python.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.