League of Ordinary Gentlemen
Photos and Video
This humorous and endearing look at the world of professional bowling opens with an examination of the cultural perceptions that surround the sport. Footage from the days of mullets and beer guts is interwoven with commentary from a diverse array of observers, including Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone; journalist Bernie Goldberg; and former NBA All-Star, bowling fan, and "Round Mound of Rebound" Charles Barkley. Tracing the historical arc of the professional bowling tour, the film includes archival footage from the sport's glory days in the 1950's and 60's, through its near extinction in 1997. The story takes a dramatic twist when three retired Microsoft executives purchase the Professional Bowler's Assoication (PBA) and install Steve Miller, a former Nike marketing executive, as CEO. Miller immediately sets about modernizing the PBA, transforming it into a slicker, more media-friendly package. In addition to Miller, the movie focuses on four bowlers, each of whom offers a different perspective on life on the PBA tour: Pete Weber, bowling "bad boy" and son of legendary bowler Dick Weber; Walter Ray Williams Jr., a straight-laced six-time world horseshoe-pitching champion with 36 PBA titles to his name; Chris Barnes, a young father of newborn twins, who must leave his wife and sons at home and hit the road to compete for winnings on the tour; and Wayne Webb, a 20-time PBA champion who has fallen on hard times and hopes to squeeze one more good season out of his career to stave off bankruptcy.
Director's Statement Collapse
Looking back, we're not exactly sure why we first set out to make a documentary about professional bowling. The movie arose out of some combination of a nostalgia for an America none of us really knew, a perverse interest in polyester and mullets, and a very amateur sociological interest in documenting what we viewed as a potentially threatened tribe of nomadic men who roamed the country, briefly alighting on the outskirts of urban areas to bowl for small amounts of money. Then in the late '90s, Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone, a book about the decline of community ties in American society, and our local bowling alley was converted into a day spa. In our minds, the proximity of these events suggested a larger story, a story set within the intimate confines bowling alleys, diners and motels, while unfolding against the grand backdrop of social change in America. At least that was the idea before we began shooting. In 2000, as the Professional Bowling Association languished near bankruptcy, three ex-Microsoft executives bought the league for $5 million and set about restoring professional bowling to its former grandeur. Something about the marriage of pro bowling and Microsoft struck us as funny, and it also added a quixotic quest to the story taking shape in our heads. In January 2001, we traveled to Seattle, the headquarters of the new PBA, to see if they might allow us to make a documentary about their new league, not mentioning that our combined filmmaking experience amounted largely to watching a lot of movies and intermittent PA work on laxative ads. The PBA was interested in the project, so in September 2002 we set out to document the decline and potential revival of pro bowling, propelled by naive enthusiasm and a little money we scraped together from friends and family. Over the course of ten months, we drove nearly 47,000 miles on the tail of the PBA tour as it cris-crossed America. We shot nearly 300 hours of footage, spending time with the players and executives in their homes, cars and RVs, in motels and diners, and, of course, in bowling alleys. We were constantly surprised by conflicts and tensions and ironies that surfaced in the lives of people we would not have known or thought much about had we not embarked on this project.
The film that emerged after months of editing is a story that is both sad and funny. It interweaves the lives of five individuals whose fortunes are tied to those of pro-bowling, a precarious fate if ever there was one, and it offers a glimpse of the grit and authenticity of people stripped of all pretensions. Although A League of Ordinary Gentlemen is concerned largely with professional bowling, we hope that the struggles of these five men will also strike a chord with anyone who remembers watching the intense stares and tortured silences of a Saturday afternoon bowling broadcast, wonders what became of this pastime, once an integral facet community life in America, or identifies with these men, struggling to reclaim their place in a changing society.
Film Information Collapse
[LEAGU] | 2004 | 93 | Documentary Feature
Foreign Title: (A League of Ordinary Gentlemen)
Premiere: New York