See a Sex Pistol sitting on the can!
They've got great, evocative names like The Gooners, The Ointment, City Psychos, and the Central Element. They worship their sport and their particular football club to the point of swearing undying allegiance and protection to it. They have even become a recognizable cultural stereotype: close-cropped hair, compact bodies pressed into trousers and T-shirts, bulldog faced and Dr. Marten booted. While it's true that there have always been fan fights—over calls or particular players or home team pride—hooliganism, or organized mob violence at sporting events apparently had its roots in the rampant national solidarity that swept Britain after World War II. Becoming more organized and widespread by 1960, the outbursts were initially aimed at immigrants. Eventually, the ideology de-evolved into an almost completely racist bent to all football bedlam (paving the way for one of punk's personal shames, the skinheads). By the mid-1970s, hooliganism in the UK had a very inner city gang slant, whereby rival crews used Saturday's game as a chance to stage good old-fashioned rumbles. There was also an element of thumbing one's nose at the Establishment, of using fists and feet as a means of challenging the government and its law enforcers. While reaching its zenith in the '80s and '90s, it's gotten to the point now, in the new millennium, where competing organizations avoid the match altogether, and hold their prearranged fights and ambushes in railway stations. Thanks to the Internet and the availability of cheap communication equipment, one could say that hooliganism has gone hi-tech, utilizing cell phones, pagers, and websites to organize their chaos.
You'd never know any of this watching the latest DVD release from Moonshine Entertainment entitled IHooligans and Thugs: Soccer's Most Violent Fan Fights. Like a literal collection of football fanatic's greatest hits, this disc offers a great deal of power, but very little prescience for the pound. After a very cursory glance at the backstory to this strange phenomenon, we are introduced to over an hour of frenzied, mostly home video and surveillance footage of hooligan hordes punching, boot stomping, and windmill side swiping each other. We get highlights from all over the world and all manner of soccer matches, from the World Cup to neighborhood events. Divided up by small taped segments featuring Sex Pistol guitar hero Steve Jones (doing his best, demented Benny Hill, complete with complimentary cursing) this jumbled, non-linear look at soccer street fighting is as intriguing as it is irritating. This is not a documentary so much as a document, a collection of mismatched moments from some of the most disgusting displays of senseless hostility and aggression ever captured. The footage here is disturbing and disheartening, but not quite as potent as it could be. First and foremost, the battles are mostly long shot, zoom lens pell-mell melees where indiscriminate objects that look like people bum rush each other for untold shaky camera scanning moments. Since we are at the mercy of bystanders or police, the frame moves wildly from place to place, hoping to capture action while leaving equally captivating material in the pan wake. We rarely see the outcomes of such gratuitous sadism. There are a few shots of the bloodied and stunned, but not enough to offset the distance from the maelstrom created by the onscreen presentation of the pandemonium.
There are also a couple of additional fouls committed by Hooligans that should be addressed. First and foremost was the choice to pump a predictable, dated techno soundtrack over all the action scenes. Since many of the brawls go on for several minutes, the songs simply loop and lap each other until that most geriatric of reactions occurs to even the most distinguished musical ear: it all starts to sound the same. The minute the scrappers mix it up, the DJ spins his pulse pounding platters and suddenly, it looks like we're watching a rave gone goofy, not intense, mean spirited violence. It makes one wonder where the music most associated with hooligans, i.e. punk and metal is? If it's a matter of rights clearance, that's one thing. But this DVD's obvious attempt at multi-national and cultural penetration assumes that non-stop disco beats with occasional electronic keyboard flourishes are the universal musical language. Jones' old band would have been a much more appropriate voice of rage to play out over these sequences of anarchy. Like a long night at a gay bar, the meat beat manifesto just gets old. Also, there is just not enough of Jones. He gives off a rather menacing, mischievous vibe, the kind of bloke who'd chat you up and punch you out in the same sentence. Dressed in a booby's uniform, decked out in full nerd glasses or draped in a St. George's chain mail ensemble, he is exceedingly comical. And with his rough, rugged demeanor and coarse, Cockney accent, he complements the film's subject matter perfectly. But aside from a few perfunctory scenes of him gadding about and a little voice-over work, there is less Jones here than there should be. While he might not want to be the voice of hooliganism, he does offer a legitimate link between its past and present. Besides, he's just so spectacular, you sods.
Overall, this is a fairly good DVD product as it delivers exactly what it sets out to. It doesn't go in for fancy bonus features or content expanding extras. It's advertised as more than 60 minutes of soccer fights and that's what it is. Visually, the presentation is a mixed bag since the source media used is equally inconsistent. From stock footage to video and undercover camera work, the fact that the image is mostly magnificent speaks volumes for the time and care taken to transfer this material to disc. Aurally, we get a chance to hear that non-stop hammer time in all its Dolby Digital Stereo glory, and since it compromises the majority of the soundtrack, there is no immersion or surround to be found. Again, there is no added material here, so anyone looking for historical or contextual information is out of luck.
Besides, the most mesmerizing aspect of Hooligans and Thugs: Soccer's Most Violent Fan Fights is the skirmishes themselves and how universal and global the concept has become. We learn that Turkey and Eastern European countries are rampant with football brutes. We see how South America, one of the most rabid soccer societies of the world responds and adds to the problem. From the youngest punter to the oldest wanker, the notion of supporting one's favorite sport through vicious altercation is now as much a part of the game as David Beckham or Andres Cantor. Hooligans and Thugs could have gone much deeper into why this fundamental form of patriotism got so confused. But it stays true to its colors and showcases the worst scenes of such fanaticism gone fisticuffs.
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