2006Director: Robert Ismert
Cast: Doug Furry, Johnny Horner, Lee Peppard
love a documentary that investigates a subject matter with little presence in the mainstream psyche. One that explores a seemingly minor and unknown person, place, or thing, extrapolating from it universal themes a compassionate viewer will respond to, regardless of whether or not they possess a previous knowledge of or allegiance to the material. Robert Ismert’s Foos is almost one of these documentaries. Almost.
Foos details the history of American Table Soccer (aka Foosball), from its genesis in the early 1960s as a minor form of tavern amusement, to its meteoric rise in the ‘70s as a nearly legitimate professional sport, all the way through the ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s, when, due largely to a series of management blunders on the behalf of tournament sponsors, the game lost popularity, and its throne of recreation was usurped by Atari and the advent of the electronic arcade. During this time, only the most dedicated of fans and competitors devoted themselves to the game, a number of whom make memorable appearances throughout the movie. One of the great joys of delving into such a subculture is discovering these types. Mr. Ismert digs up aplenty, and it is their collective testimony that keeps this bulky and uneven film afloat.
The most captivating of these characters is Johnny Horton. A self-destructive, manic foosball wunderkind and three-time world champion, Mr. Horton’s success and downfall parallels the game’s flash-bang rise in popularity and abrupt fall from grace. Every time he is interviewed, he lights up the screen with his animated gestures and stories about big money tournaments in Chicago, Denver and Las Vegas. And the purse for these competitions? Lordy! We’re talking fifty, a hundred, five-hundred thousand dollars. Sometimes a new Porsche. One tourney offered the champ a pair of spanking new Corvettes. Horner speaks of a dizzying lifestyle. Through his contagious passion, he hysterically articulates the appeal of foosball. It’s easy to see why the game was such a sensation. Unfortunately, though, the stilted narrative strays from Horton’s sermons, and when it does, the film suffers.
With a two-hour plus runtime, Foos feels strained and unfocused. After about thirty minutes, just when the novelty of the 1970s table soccer aesthetic so prominent in the archival footage runs thin, the picture begins to unravel. Begins to lose steam. The structure is fractured, the stories are difficult to follow, difficult to keep track of. Unidentified interviewees speak of disparate events in a poorly communicated manner. These events begin to run together in the mind. They jumble. Who’s saying what about what, now? Near the second hour mark, Mr. Ismert meanders away from the personalities that gave the game a name, and instead focuses on the economical ascent of various table-manufacturing companies—on the people who actually build foosball tables. Apparently, there are three primary manufactures: Dynamo, Stryker, and Tornado. The chronology of their undertakings, as presented in the film, is soupy. It’s difficult to tell who made what table when, and how the respective tables changed the game. The tangent is muddled. It deviates from the more engaging aspects of the film. Viewers may find their minds wandering.
But still, the movie is worth watching. Even if unorganized and distracted in its entirety, it is successful in small doses. Mr. Ismert has made a passionate film about…passion, and for this he deserves props. And though Foos is sometimes too eager to cram every single facet of the subculture into one film, at its best it is a damn convincing argument that foosball is the most exciting and greatest of all recreational games.
Foos is currently available on DVD.
By: Frank Rinaldi
Published on: 2007-04-09