Douglas Gordon (artist)
in conversation with Riccardo Giacconi
published on the book Spoilsport
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is a film about ‘a man just doing his job’. Following a player for the whole duration of a match means showing not only the instants of Zidane’s wonderful moves – the spectacle, which can be seen in sport coverage – but also the enormous amount of time when he is not doing anything spectacular: the work. Professional sports are somewhere in the space between the two. How would you describe the distinction between a sport performance and a work performance? How does work become a spectacle?
I suppose that the spectacle has very little to do with the popular meaning of the 'spectacular'. I suppose that the difference between work and spectacle is simply the presence and consciousness of an audience.
Ordinary work may be carried out in isolation, in silence, without fear of failure or the excitement of success. Even teamwork can be applied in this case.
The absence of the viewer makes work, work and the conscious inclusion of an audience makes almost everything spectacular. Even when Zidane is not in contact with the ball, he is still performing in some sense, in front of an audience. Always spectacular in a way...
Zidane himself said, “anything can happen in one hour and a half”. Anyway, in a curious way the unwritten script of the film seems to follow the standard structure of a feature movie. In particular, the left-footed cross which leads to Ronaldo’s goal, and the final red card sequence, seem to coincide with two ‘plot points’ of the screenwriting paradigm as Syd Field talks about: the midpoint and the showdown. What are the similarities in the narrative structure of a football match and of a feature movie you were most interested in?
Hah, yes. I think that Philippe and I can give you a whole load of films that we might have been thinking of during the editing process.
One of the first things that we realised, when we started the project was that the shape of the field is similar to the proportions of a cinema screen. And of course, the 90-minute duration is exactly that of a feature length movie.
I don’t think that these things are necessarily a coincidence.
As for me, I always had an idea that our portrait of Zidane might fall somewhere close to [Jean-Pierre] Melville's Le Samouraï. Zidane as a similarly self contained assassin, the role played by Alain Delon, for example.
The way the film was shot makes me think of the increasing acceptance of surveillance cameras in the public space. In this sense, sport events in general and your film in particular are good examples of a complete and inescapable control of the visual representation of an individual in a given space (the ‘carré vert’). How does this control influence the concept of portraiture? You quoted Pasolini when he talks about infinity of points of view.
I think I understand your point of view but I do not agree with the idea that surveillance can be equated with portraiture.
Surveillance is very much about the 'moment'. Portraiture is not at all about that. Even although our portrait of Zidane is framed in an event that is understood to be happening in 'real time', the portrait was carefully constructed over a long period – composed, recomposed, etcetera, much in the same way a painter would approach the model in a studio.
Philippe and I did seriously consider the idea of the infinite points of view of course. We did talk about having everyone in the stadium, or at least thousands of people try to record their own portrait on telephone cameras or what not.
Thank god we heard that the Beastie Boys were already doing something like this because it was already difficult enough to edit 17 points of view!
Do you think the amount of emotional intensity aroused in the masses by sport events cannot be reached by any other practice in contemporary society?
I don’t really see the same combination of provocative elements anywhere in society that are present in sport. And within sport I do not see any other activity that harnesses so many provocative elements such as a football match; athleticism, sexuality, competition, inter-team rivalry, struggle against time, etcetera. It’s amazing. And with 22 and more personalities and characters to contend with, it’s an astonishing piece of theatrical management, the match!
You said your film doesn’t want to picture Zidane neither as a hero nor as an antihero. But in sport events (especially football in Europe) the feeling of attachment to a common cause (the team) is a phenomenon that has the power to trigger instincts, the qualities of which are similar to the ones of warfare. Do you think this is one of the reasons why sports have this particular significance in contemporary society?
I'm not at all sure about that. It’s clear that the use of emblems and music and all the periphera that the audience bring to the stadium is emblematic of a certain love of competition if not combat, that our society loves.