John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection

marc45

G.O.A.T.
was looking through new writing about the Borg-McEnroe movie at Variety and stumbled upon this French effort..has anybody seen it?

Berlin Film Review: ‘In the Realm of Perfection’

Vibrant 16mm footage of John McEnroe's 1984 French Open final illuminates a fascinating essay on the kinship between tennis and filmmaking.


By
Jessica Kiang


Director:

Julien Faraut

With:

Mathieu Amalric (narrator), John McEnroe, Gil de Kermadec. (French, English dialogue)
1 hours 35 minutes

In Julien Faraut’s elegant, witty, and thoughtful documentary, the unusual case is made that there is an ongoing conversation between tennis and cinema. “In the Realm of Perfection” sets up a long, intricate rally between these surprisingly well-matched players, showing how, as in all the best matches, they each raise the other’s game. And so what on paper might be a standard sporting bio-doc, largely relevant only to tennis aficionados or fans of John McEnroe at the height of his powers, instead becomes a lovely meditation on time and movement, dedication and obsession, image and perception. Umpired by Mathieu Amalric’s dulcet voiceover, McEnroe’s astonishing 1984 season is set in the context of the man who monomaniacally recorded it, and we get to spectate.

Gil de Kermadec is the other player, a director who started working for INSEP, the French national sport and training institute, in the 1960s, making instructional films on how to play tennis. These clips are now kind of hilarious in their proscribed naïveté, reducing elaborate and instinctual footwork to a series of step diagrams, like tennis can be taught the way you would the quadrille. But de Kermadec quickly gained not only the understanding that no posed simulation could capture the fluid reality, but also an almost fervently mystical belief that cinema technologies, such as slow motion, might actually be key to unlocking the sport’s secrets. And so Faraut has access to a huge trove of of gorgeously filmic, 16mm color footage, culminating in de Kermadec’s obsessive analysis of McEnroe’s performance at Roland Garros in 1984.

The story of the 1984 French Open has a famous sting in the tail, as McEnroe, on a seemingly unassailable run of triumphs, lost in the final to Ivan Lendl over five sets. It meant that his final win/loss stat for the year stands at 96.5%. It’s still a modern-era record in the men’s game, but nonetheless an older, calmer McEnroe remarks that he finds it hard to commentate on the tournament to this day; he regards that final as the greatest regret of his career. “I wonder how would my life have been different if I’d won it,” he says.

In the physics of McEnroe’s arched back, his grip, his tractor-beam focus, de Kermadec was trying to find the equation for sporting perfection. But just as with that loss — so unlikely it almost seems like an act of self-sabotage — McEnroe’s outsize personality, here at the height of its volatility, was always going to intrude. And so Faraut’s film duly becomes fascinated by McEnroe’s spiky psychology, likening his orchestration of the match’s highs and lows, perhaps with more poetic license than strictest logic, to the way a director controls a set.

It’s hinted that McEnroe’s most remarkable ability, apart from that of selecting miraculous and completely unguessable winning shots, was how he could sulk and rant (he was reportedly the model for Tom Hulce’s portrayal of Mozart in “Amadeus”), and even loose streams of concentration-shattering invective against hapless umpires, linesmen, or spectators, and then come back to win the next point. “I trained for that,” he says, acknowledging a degree of strategizing around his outbursts that slightly belies their spontaneity.

In this, and in so much of the secret choreography of his exceptional game that de Kermadec’s footage reveals, Faraut finds evidence that McEnroe was not just one of the greatest players the sport has seen, and not just analogous to a filmmaker. Instead, “In the Realm of Perfection” imagines him as a true auteur of the tennis court, a sculptor in time and the red clay of Roland Garros, and a storyteller, endlessly retelling a narrative of victory, trying to achieve perfection, and getting 96.5% of the way there.

Berlin Film Review: 'In the Realm of Perfection'

Reviewed at Kino Arsenal, Berlin, Feb. 8, 2018. (In Berlin Film Festival – Forum Section). Running Time: 95 MIN. (Original title: "L'Empire de la perfection")

PRODUCTION: (Documentary — France) A UFO production. (International sales: Film Constellation, London.) Producers: William Jéhannin, Raphaëlle Delauche.

CREW: Director, screenplay: Julien Faraut. Camera (color): Julien Faraut. Editor: Andrei Bogdanov. Music: Serge Teyssot Gay.

WITH: Mathieu Amalric (narrator), John McEnroe, Gil de Kermadec. (French, English dialogue)
 
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urban

Legend
Gil Kermadec was a famous tennis photographer from France. In many books from Clerici, Sutter Deniau, and others are his photo-sequences of famous players, made at Roland Garros. I think, he made this material. Mac was pure magic in this year. I had the opportunity to watch him live playing at Duesseldorf, WTC. I remember especially a training-match between him and Jimmy Arias (who reached the quarters that year at RG), but i could watch him from 2 meters distance. One of the greatest impressions i have seen in tennis. His timing, his upright stance, his half volley technique, his perfect balance, his arcward but very effective footwork. He worked with the power of the opponent, standing one or two feet into the baseline. His forehand was extermely wristy, his backhand seemingly always hit, when going backward. Yet he got deceptive power from his shots. In those days, he started the idiosyncratic service action, pointing with his back to the net. And his volleying was simply magical, especially near the net. He hit stop volleys from all positions, near the net or close to the baseline, i didn't matter. The Lendl 1984 final remains to me, technically in all aspects of the game, in the intense, yet consistent class of tennis over 5 sets, the best tennis match i have seen. In the Wim final 1984, on a hot and very fast court, which played like a billard table, he even had ultra power over a power hitter like Connors, he served "murderously" that day, as Maskell stated.
 

Tshooter

G.O.A.T.
Steve Tignor's review

Steve Tignor‏ @SteveTignor 15m15 minutes ago
The best profile of John McEnroe? It's a new documentary from France that's playing at @FilmLinc in Manhattan this week. My review here: https://my-aia.atavist.com/in-the-arena
I owe you one for the heads up because I may have missed it because it looks like it’s only one showing on one night and I think I can make it. :D And it's free with Moviepass. And there's a pre-screening Q+A with the director and a reception after the screening so it sounds good. I wonder if JMac will show up at the reception. I will report back. :cool:
 
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marc45

G.O.A.T.
I owe you one for the heads up because I may have missed it because it looks like it’s only one showing on one night and I think I can make it. :D And it's free with Moviepass. And there's a pre-screening Q+A with the director and a reception after the screening so it sounds good. I wonder if JMac will show up at the reception. I will report back. :cool:
thanks, would like to hear that...John recently went on record saying he didn't like Borg-McEnroe, so maybe he'll like this one :)

wonder how much he even remembers it
 

jaggy

Talk Tennis Guru
thanks, would like to hear that...John recently went on record saying he didn't like Borg-McEnroe, so maybe he'll like this one :)

wonder how much he even remembers it
thanks, would like to hear that...John recently went on record saying he didn't like Borg-McEnroe, so maybe he'll like this one :)

wonder how much he even remembers it
He probably thought it should be called McEnroe-Borg
 

vsbabolat

G.O.A.T.
was looking through new writing about the Borg-McEnroe movie at Variety and stumbled upon this French effort..has anybody seen it?

Berlin Film Review: ‘In the Realm of Perfection’

Vibrant 16mm footage of John McEnroe's 1984 French Open final illuminates a fascinating essay on the kinship between tennis and filmmaking.


By
Jessica Kiang


Director:

Julien Faraut

With:

Mathieu Amalric (narrator), John McEnroe, Gil de Kermadec. (French, English dialogue)
1 hours 35 minutes

In Julien Faraut’s elegant, witty, and thoughtful documentary, the unusual case is made that there is an ongoing conversation between tennis and cinema. “In the Realm of Perfection” sets up a long, intricate rally between these surprisingly well-matched players, showing how, as in all the best matches, they each raise the other’s game. And so what on paper might be a standard sporting bio-doc, largely relevant only to tennis aficionados or fans of John McEnroe at the height of his powers, instead becomes a lovely meditation on time and movement, dedication and obsession, image and perception. Umpired by Mathieu Amalric’s dulcet voiceover, McEnroe’s astonishing 1984 season is set in the context of the man who monomaniacally recorded it, and we get to spectate.

Gil de Kermadec is the other player, a director who started working for INSEP, the French national sport and training institute, in the 1960s, making instructional films on how to play tennis. These clips are now kind of hilarious in their proscribed naïveté, reducing elaborate and instinctual footwork to a series of step diagrams, like tennis can be taught the way you would the quadrille. But de Kermadec quickly gained not only the understanding that no posed simulation could capture the fluid reality, but also an almost fervently mystical belief that cinema technologies, such as slow motion, might actually be key to unlocking the sport’s secrets. And so Faraut has access to a huge trove of of gorgeously filmic, 16mm color footage, culminating in de Kermadec’s obsessive analysis of McEnroe’s performance at Roland Garros in 1984.

The story of the 1984 French Open has a famous sting in the tail, as McEnroe, on a seemingly unassailable run of triumphs, lost in the final to Ivan Lendl over five sets. It meant that his final win/loss stat for the year stands at 96.5%. It’s still a modern-era record in the men’s game, but nonetheless an older, calmer McEnroe remarks that he finds it hard to commentate on the tournament to this day; he regards that final as the greatest regret of his career. “I wonder how would my life have been different if I’d won it,” he says.

In the physics of McEnroe’s arched back, his grip, his tractor-beam focus, de Kermadec was trying to find the equation for sporting perfection. But just as with that loss — so unlikely it almost seems like an act of self-sabotage — McEnroe’s outsize personality, here at the height of its volatility, was always going to intrude. And so Faraut’s film duly becomes fascinated by McEnroe’s spiky psychology, likening his orchestration of the match’s highs and lows, perhaps with more poetic license than strictest logic, to the way a director controls a set.

It’s hinted that McEnroe’s most remarkable ability, apart from that of selecting miraculous and completely unguessable winning shots, was how he could sulk and rant (he was reportedly the model for Tom Hulce’s portrayal of Mozart in “Amadeus”), and even loose streams of concentration-shattering invective against hapless umpires, linesmen, or spectators, and then come back to win the next point. “I trained for that,” he says, acknowledging a degree of strategizing around his outbursts that slightly belies their spontaneity.

In this, and in so much of the secret choreography of his exceptional game that de Kermadec’s footage reveals, Faraut finds evidence that McEnroe was not just one of the greatest players the sport has seen, and not just analogous to a filmmaker. Instead, “In the Realm of Perfection” imagines him as a true auteur of the tennis court, a sculptor in time and the red clay of Roland Garros, and a storyteller, endlessly retelling a narrative of victory, trying to achieve perfection, and getting 96.5% of the way there.

Berlin Film Review: 'In the Realm of Perfection'

Reviewed at Kino Arsenal, Berlin, Feb. 8, 2018. (In Berlin Film Festival – Forum Section). Running Time: 95 MIN. (Original title: "L'Empire de la perfection")

PRODUCTION: (Documentary — France) A UFO production. (International sales: Film Constellation, London.) Producers: William Jéhannin, Raphaëlle Delauche.

CREW: Director, screenplay: Julien Faraut. Camera (color): Julien Faraut. Editor: Andrei Bogdanov. Music: Serge Teyssot Gay.

WITH: Mathieu Amalric (narrator), John McEnroe, Gil de Kermadec. (French, English dialogue)
It’s actually footage from 1984 and 1985. The footage of McEnroe wearing the checkerboard Nike clothes is from 1985. The Sergio Tacchini is from 1984
 

Tshooter

G.O.A.T.
thanks, would like to hear that...John recently went on record saying he didn't like Borg-McEnroe, so maybe he'll like this one

wonder how much he even remembers it
I must have been crazy thinking Mac would show. If the movie is to be believed he's still haunted by the loss to Lendl. I took some photos of the event but don't have a convenient place to host them so I'll have to substitute with a description and rely on your imagination. Here is how the entire event unfolded:

This film was the opening night film of a documentary film festival being held by the Film Society of Lincoln Center which runs the two theaters located at Lincoln Center. For those familiar with the area the McEnroe film was screened at the single screen theater that is next door to Rose Hall. It's somewhat small at 268 seats but a very nicely designed theater. The pre-movie reception was held in the adjoining gallery which is decorated with old movie posters.

[photo of the Furman Gallery goes here]

They had a makeshift bar with beer and champagne. And a table with cheese, charcuterie, fruit and nuts. All the music was French.

[photo of makeshift bar]

There was a decent crowd for this pre-show reception. The theater itself was maybe 85-90% full if I had to guess. The screen was set up in what looked to me like a square even though 16mm film (which I thought it was filmed with) is not a 1:1 aspect ratio.

The filmmaker was introduced and gave a brief intro in English and then sat down to watch with us. He said it was the North and South American premiere and the film had its worldwide premiere at the Berlin Film Festival.

After the screening there was a Q+A. I was curious about the aspect ratio but I didn't get a chance to ask because only the Film Festival director person got to ask questions. They cut the part where the audience could ask questions because they had to get the theater ready for the next film.

[photo of filmmaker, a woman translating from French to English so the filmmaker could more fully express himself in his native French and some film festival director person asking questions.]

The filmmaker I think said he was some kind of archivist working for some French govt. entity. Don't shoot me if I messed up some of these details. It sounded like a job that should exist in the US as well but that never would in the public sector because it would be branded as "socialist" or, worse, French. :p In any case, he was passionate about film and interested in the connection between film and tennis. He worked on the film for 3 years. Most of the material that he worked with consisted of 16mm film "rushes" and it took a great deal of time to cut it all together into something that could form part of a film because the rushes had no particular continuity about them in the form he found them. He always intended for his movie to be screened in a theater and not on TV.

So you may be thinking at this point that you could care less about anything but the film so what about the review already. Well it's not an easy film for me to review or even describe for that matter at least without putting more time and effort in. So I'll just say it superficially concerns the 1984 French final as you already know but that's not really the point of it. It's definitely interesting. Tennis nuts should probably see it and people interested in film documentaries or more generally film making. I applaud the guy for what he created. I'm not sure it will resonate at all with a wider audience. There is a bit of Mac myth making IMO and any of the Mac is the greatest talent types will probably lap it up. The French really did appreciate Mac's game which game is very French now that I think about it.

One thing that made me chuckle out loud was when the filmmaker wanted to demonstrate examples of tennis being a sport not constrained by time he used on the long end the 11 hour Isner-Mahut and on the short end the less than 30 minute thrashing of Bernie by Nieminen in Miami. Bernie ! :D
 
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marc45

G.O.A.T.
I must have been crazy thinking Mac would show. If the movie is to be believed he's still haunted by the loss to Lendl. I took some photos of the event but don't have a convenient place to host them so I'll have to substitute with a description and rely on your imagination. Here is how the entire event unfolded:

This film was the opening night film of a documentary film festival being held by the Film Society of Lincoln Center which runs the two theaters located at Lincoln Center. For those familiar with the area the McEnroe film was screened at the single screen theater that is next door to Rose Hall. It's somewhat small at 268 seats but a very nicely designed theater. The pre-movie reception was held in the adjoining gallery which is decorated with old movie posters.

[photo of the Furman Gallery goes here]

They had a makeshift bar with beer and champagne. And a table with cheese, charcuterie, fruit and nuts. All the music was French.

[photo of makeshift bar]

There was a decent crowd for this pre-show reception. The theater itself was maybe 85-90% full if I had to guess. The screen was set up in what looked to me like a square even though 16mm film (which I what I thought it was filmed with) is not a 1:1 aspect ratio.

The filmmaker was introduced and gave a brief intro in English and then sat down to watch with us. He said it was the North and South American premiere and the film had its worldwide premiere at the Berlin Film Festival.

After the screening there was a Q+A. I was curious about the aspect ratio but I didn't get a chance to ask because only the Film Festival director person got to ask questions. They cut the part where the audience could ask questions because they had to get the theater ready for the next film.

[photo of filmmaker, a woman translating from French to English so the filmmaker could more fully express himself in his native French and some film festival director person asking questions.]

The filmmaker I think said he was some kind of archivist working for some French govt. entity. Don't shoot me if I messed up some of these details. It sounded like a job that should exist in the US as well but that never would in the public sector because it would be branded as "socialist" or, worse, French. :p In any case, he was passionate about film and interested in the connection between film and tennis. He worked on the film for 3 years. Most of the material that he worked with consisted of 16mm film "rushes" and it took a great deal of time to cut it all together into something that could form part of a film because the rushes had no particular continuity about them in the form he found them. He always intended for his movie to be screened in a theater and not on TV.

So you may be thinking at this point that you could care less about anything but the film so what about the review already. Well it's not an easy film for me to review or even describe for that matter at least without putting more time and effort in. So I'll just say it superficially concerns the 1984 French final as you already know but that's not really the point of it. It's definitely interesting. Tennis nuts should probably see it and people interested in film documentaries or more generally film making. I applaud the guy for what he created. I'm not sure it will resonate at all with a wider audience. There is a bit of Mac myth making IMO and any of the Mac is the greatest talent types will probably lap it up. The French really did appreciate Mac's game which game is very French now that I think about it.

One thing that made me chuckle out loud was when the filmmaker wanted to demonstrate examples of tennis being a sport not constrained by time he used on the long end the 11 hour Isner-Mahut and on the short end the less than 30 minute thrashing of Bernie by Nieminen in Miami. Bernie ! :D
awesome report, thank you, you didn't have to go to so much effort though I know you wanted to..I definitely will see it, but not being in a big city will simply have to keep my eye out for it on PPV or DVD!
 

Tshooter

G.O.A.T.
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jaggy

Talk Tennis Guru
Yes, that’s true. But Nike wasn’t known for their tennis clothes until McEnroe switched to the clothing. It was very big deal. It gave Nike clothing credibility.
Was the first top the white top with the blue/black checks? That's kind of my memory, many moons ago now
 

marc45

G.O.A.T.
"Sometimes it didn’t look like John McEnroe was playing tennis at all. Forget the context, that there was a man, a net and a court away, running down a ball. Forget that McEnroe had just played one of his uncomfortable, halting groundstrokes, and it could look like the most ferocious tennis player on the planet was standing flat-footed in the center of a packed stadium, his body still but his mind racing.

Removing the context of a tennis match is inherently impossible. We aren’t meant to conceive of such a story in isolation. Athletic perfection, as we’re trained to understand it, is an exercise in comparison. Julien Faraut’s cinematic portrait John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, currently playing in limited release, does its best to deconstruct those teachings.

Faraut’s main tool is the footage compiled by Gil de Kermadec, the first technical director for the French Sports Institute. In the late 1960s, while trying to create instructional tennis films, de Kermadec attempted to stage demonstrations at Roland Garros, having players showcase their strokes and hold stationary poses to give audiences snapshots of how professionals looked mid-motion. This didn’t serve its purpose. The poses looked robotic and unadjustable. The real movements of the game could not be captured outside of competition. So de Kermadec requested to place cameras in the stands starting at the 1969 edition of Roland Garros, to compile footage that would be used in instructional profiles breaking down the movements of top players. The last of de Kermadec’s films, featuring John McEnroe, was released in 1985.

When Faraut went through de Kermadec’s archives, he found that McEnroe had become a fascination of the director. There was 20 times more footage left sitting on shelves than had been used for de Kermadec’s profile. This becomes the key to Faraut’s portrait. The patina-ed footage is unusual and hypnotic, often not bothering to follow the ball, or even to show McEnroe’s opponent. Instead, for nearly an hour, we look only at him, watching his eyes move and his mouth twitch, watching his backhand stop suddenly, watching his Trojan horse of a drop shot. Taken together, the footage helps reveal why McEnroe was so difficult to beat in 1984, when he went 82-3, still by percentage the best single-season record for a man in the Open Era.

The footage toys with the audience. Sometimes it feels like a nightmare. Strokes can be played two or three times in succession, and serves are shown in slow motion with the film cutting out before McEnroe makes contact with the ball. His path throughout a rally is shown forward and then backward. “Indeed,” says the film’s narrator, “it seems he is only playing himself. … We are not spectators. We are invited to see, with a certain empathy, what is actually needed to win a point in a tennis match.”

Over time, the space given to de Kermadec’s cameras and microphones at the tournament grew smaller. As Roland Garros started to be broadcast worldwide, the tournament’s organizers began letting in more gear from domestic and foreign networks. Eventually, they suggested de Kermadec use the footage from television cameras to create his films. “They don’t understand,” de Kermadec said. “I don’t do the same job.” He was “more interested in the players than the match.”

Faraut does focus on the tantrums. In the film’s second act, he prompts us to reconsider those, too. Some of McEnroe’s arguments with chair umpires run at length without commentary, before being cut and run again in new forms. McEnroe was a perfectionist, in the construction of points and in the pursuit of a flawless season. He hated mostly anything that was not nuclear, uninterrupted competition. For his whole career, he famously played in the doubles draw, as well as the singles, rather than train during tournaments. He couldn’t stand photo ops and sponsored events. There was no tolerance for nonsense.

Faraut shows the audience a clip of McEnroe explaining that his rants are not acts of indulgence, but of frustration. He is bringing his best self to the court, McEnroe says, so it is difficult to tolerate moments when others do not. Then Faraut cuts to another tantrum, but this time we see it from a different side. McEnroe, having made his case, stands wordlessly at the net while the chair umpire and a linesperson bumble to sort out the series of events that led to a botched line call. Perfectionists are driven to strange ends when their art is disrupted by the interference of approximators.

We learn that Tom Hulce, to prepare for his legendary role as Mozart in Amadeus, watched McEnroe as a model for his character. Clips from the movie play, with the criticisms of the composer doubling as reactionary comments on McEnroe. A Mozart piano concerto layers over the American screaming and constructing points.

“If spectators quickly realized that McEnroe had an unusual style and feel for the game, very few of them understood that he was also a man who played on the edge of his senses,” the narrator tells the audience. The same perceptive abilities that caused McEnroe to explode were those that helped him become so unbeatable in the first place. He was a man who not only demanded top performance, but could acutely feel its shape. For much of the film, we are not shown any opponents, because they are not important. The challenge exists apart from their capabilities.

“Björn Borg puts the ball where the other player is not,” the narrator says, reading the words of French film critic and sometimes-tennis writer Serge Daney. “McEnroe puts it in a place where the other player will never reach.”

Finally, there is a rival. The last half-hour of Faraut’s documentary homes in on the 1984 French Open final, in which McEnroe faced the schoolboy-like, argyle-laced world no. 2 Ivan Lendl. The match is remembered as the darkest mark on McEnroe’s career.

The American races out to a two-set lead. The clay does not stop him from flying to the net or doing whatever the hell he wants. Prior to this match, McEnroe had dropped just a single set at Roland Garros that year, and, after little more than an hour against Lendl, he leads 6-3, 6-2.

The movie’s tone shifts with that of the match. An overdriven guitar begins to riff as the clean, perfect performance becomes an eerie trudge across the dirt under the searing afternoon sun. McEnroe’s forehand begins to misfire. He falls trying to cut off points at the net. He inwardly combusts as only he could, allowing his art to be irretrievably tainted. Lendl takes the match in five sets. McEnroe gives away his best chance to win at Roland Garros. He would never even make the final again.

As Faraut’s work concludes, we learn that McEnroe still thinks about that match. He has trouble watching the French Open while doing commentary in Paris. He still feels sick remembering the loss. Still, it wakes him up in the middle of the night.

Athletes are trained to think about the manageable, the film tells us. But perfectionists, in spite of themselves, think about everything."
 

marc45

G.O.A.T.
You could've just bumped your other thread
https://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/index.php?threads/old-mcenroe-film-at-the-french-open.615196/

It's currently playing at the film forum in NY until Tuesday and the Laemmle Royal in LA until Thursday. A film critic friend of mine loved it, it's getting pretty great reviews. Catch it while you can.
I was too lazy to search :)

between this and the Borg-McEnroe movie there's been a bunch :)

I want to see it but it won't get anywhere near me I bet...hopefully I can stream it
 

marc45

G.O.A.T.
Mac didn't like Borg-McEnroe, wonder if he'll appreciate this, or has already commented on it?

subject matter is tough for him though
 

hoodjem

G.O.A.T.
"Sometimes it didn’t look like John McEnroe was playing tennis at all. Forget the context, that there was a man, a net and a court away, running down a ball. Forget that McEnroe had just played one of his uncomfortable, halting groundstrokes, and it could look like the most ferocious tennis player on the planet was standing flat-footed in the center of a packed stadium, his body still but his mind racing.

Removing the context of a tennis match is inherently impossible. We aren’t meant to conceive of such a story in isolation. Athletic perfection, as we’re trained to understand it, is an exercise in comparison. Julien Faraut’s cinematic portrait John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, currently playing in limited release, does its best to deconstruct those teachings.

Faraut’s main tool is the footage compiled by Gil de Kermadec, the first technical director for the French Sports Institute. In the late 1960s, while trying to create instructional tennis films, de Kermadec attempted to stage demonstrations at Roland Garros, having players showcase their strokes and hold stationary poses to give audiences snapshots of how professionals looked mid-motion. This didn’t serve its purpose. The poses looked robotic and unadjustable. The real movements of the game could not be captured outside of competition. So de Kermadec requested to place cameras in the stands starting at the 1969 edition of Roland Garros, to compile footage that would be used in instructional profiles breaking down the movements of top players. The last of de Kermadec’s films, featuring John McEnroe, was released in 1985.

When Faraut went through de Kermadec’s archives, he found that McEnroe had become a fascination of the director. There was 20 times more footage left sitting on shelves than had been used for de Kermadec’s profile. This becomes the key to Faraut’s portrait. The patina-ed footage is unusual and hypnotic, often not bothering to follow the ball, or even to show McEnroe’s opponent. Instead, for nearly an hour, we look only at him, watching his eyes move and his mouth twitch, watching his backhand stop suddenly, watching his Trojan horse of a drop shot. Taken together, the footage helps reveal why McEnroe was so difficult to beat in 1984, when he went 82-3, still by percentage the best single-season record for a man in the Open Era.

The footage toys with the audience. Sometimes it feels like a nightmare. Strokes can be played two or three times in succession, and serves are shown in slow motion with the film cutting out before McEnroe makes contact with the ball. His path throughout a rally is shown forward and then backward. “Indeed,” says the film’s narrator, “it seems he is only playing himself. … We are not spectators. We are invited to see, with a certain empathy, what is actually needed to win a point in a tennis match.”

Over time, the space given to de Kermadec’s cameras and microphones at the tournament grew smaller. As Roland Garros started to be broadcast worldwide, the tournament’s organizers began letting in more gear from domestic and foreign networks. Eventually, they suggested de Kermadec use the footage from television cameras to create his films. “They don’t understand,” de Kermadec said. “I don’t do the same job.” He was “more interested in the players than the match.”

Faraut does focus on the tantrums. In the film’s second act, he prompts us to reconsider those, too. Some of McEnroe’s arguments with chair umpires run at length without commentary, before being cut and run again in new forms. McEnroe was a perfectionist, in the construction of points and in the pursuit of a flawless season. He hated mostly anything that was not nuclear, uninterrupted competition. For his whole career, he famously played in the doubles draw, as well as the singles, rather than train during tournaments. He couldn’t stand photo ops and sponsored events. There was no tolerance for nonsense.

Faraut shows the audience a clip of McEnroe explaining that his rants are not acts of indulgence, but of frustration. He is bringing his best self to the court, McEnroe says, so it is difficult to tolerate moments when others do not. Then Faraut cuts to another tantrum, but this time we see it from a different side. McEnroe, having made his case, stands wordlessly at the net while the chair umpire and a linesperson bumble to sort out the series of events that led to a botched line call. Perfectionists are driven to strange ends when their art is disrupted by the interference of approximators.

We learn that Tom Hulce, to prepare for his legendary role as Mozart in Amadeus, watched McEnroe as a model for his character. Clips from the movie play, with the criticisms of the composer doubling as reactionary comments on McEnroe. A Mozart piano concerto layers over the American screaming and constructing points.

“If spectators quickly realized that McEnroe had an unusual style and feel for the game, very few of them understood that he was also a man who played on the edge of his senses,” the narrator tells the audience. The same perceptive abilities that caused McEnroe to explode were those that helped him become so unbeatable in the first place. He was a man who not only demanded top performance, but could acutely feel its shape. For much of the film, we are not shown any opponents, because they are not important. The challenge exists apart from their capabilities.

“Björn Borg puts the ball where the other player is not,” the narrator says, reading the words of French film critic and sometimes-tennis writer Serge Daney. “McEnroe puts it in a place where the other player will never reach.”

Finally, there is a rival. The last half-hour of Faraut’s documentary homes in on the 1984 French Open final, in which McEnroe faced the schoolboy-like, argyle-laced world no. 2 Ivan Lendl. The match is remembered as the darkest mark on McEnroe’s career.

The American races out to a two-set lead. The clay does not stop him from flying to the net or doing whatever the hell he wants. Prior to this match, McEnroe had dropped just a single set at Roland Garros that year, and, after little more than an hour against Lendl, he leads 6-3, 6-2.

The movie’s tone shifts with that of the match. An overdriven guitar begins to riff as the clean, perfect performance becomes an eerie trudge across the dirt under the searing afternoon sun. McEnroe’s forehand begins to misfire. He falls trying to cut off points at the net. He inwardly combusts as only he could, allowing his art to be irretrievably tainted. Lendl takes the match in five sets. McEnroe gives away his best chance to win at Roland Garros. He would never even make the final again.

As Faraut’s work concludes, we learn that McEnroe still thinks about that match. He has trouble watching the French Open while doing commentary in Paris. He still feels sick remembering the loss. Still, it wakes him up in the middle of the night.

Athletes are trained to think about the manageable, the film tells us. But perfectionists, in spite of themselves, think about everything."
Nice review: makes me want to watch the film.
 
Nice review: makes me want to watch the film.
I quite liked it, but the style of the film may be hard for non film buff types to get into. It's not a traditional doc at all. And is very French:)

But the footage is amazing, just having one camera focused on one player throughout a match can reveal a lot.

they had footage of Laver hitting a ball out of the stadium in anger at Roland Garros in the 60s, pretty shocking stuff...
 
Mac didn't like Borg-McEnroe, wonder if he'll appreciate this, or has already commented on it?

subject matter is tough for him though
It's a pretty small movie, battle of the sexes may as well be a marvel movie in comparison(I doubt the distributor could afford to do much advertising - there's no way could they afford to get a tv ad during the USO)

He may not be aware of it, but should be, it's clear the filmmakers adore him. Younger posters should see it to understand how he sort of transcended the game in a way that no player really has since. I mean to hear Tom Hulce based his Amadeus character on Mac is remarkable.

Members of the audience I saw it with were gasping at some of the shots they showed him hitting.
 
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hoodjem

G.O.A.T.
I quite liked it, but the style of the film may be hard for non film buff types to get into. It's not a traditional doc at all. And is very French:)

But the footage is amazing, just having one camera focused on one player throughout a match can reveal a lot.

they had footage of Laver hitting a ball out of the stadium in anger at Roland Garros in the 60s, pretty shocking stuff...
Nouvelle Vague.!?
 

Kalin

Legend
they had footage of Laver hitting a ball out of the stadium in anger at Roland Garros in the 60s, pretty shocking stuff...
Wow, I have seen Jerzy Janowicz do it and it was mightily impressive but JJ is a giant, not to mention a barely-suppressed raging lunatic. Seeing tiny Rocket Laver do it, out of a much bigger stadium none the less, must be absolutely awesome.

My respect for Laver just, ahem, rocketed even higher.
 

Le Master

Professional
Just finished watching this. I loved all the amazing footage. And McEnroe's behavior on court was even worse than I realized. I wish we could just watch all the hours of footage that didn't make it into the film.
 

NicoMK

Professional
I can't see the quote but as for the FO, who knows? 35 years later, still a heartbreaker to me so I can't imagine to Mac. He said very recently that had he won the French, he wouldn't need a psy these days. It was said in a very humorous way but still.

All credits to Lendl, such a tough battle, one of the toughest and greatest in the history of this sport.

I saw this documentary by the way and it is great. Watch it if you can. Real old good tennis.
 

big ted

Hall of Fame
i can see why he deems the loss devastating to him in that (aside from the dramatic effect) : he was ahead, it was his only real chance there at the FO, it would have put him further
ahead on the G.O.A.T list, but on the other hand so many other players have had as bad as that and it goes untalked about....lol
federer alone, how many times has he been 2 sets up at W or USO to lose to berdych, tsonga, anderson, djokovic....
the djokovic one alone where he had 2 match pts in the semifinal USO seems worse than macs FO to me...lol
 
What is the thing when the other cameraman hits the microphone with the numbered placard ?
What sort of filmmaking technique is that? Synch up audio and video and number the segments?
 

DSH

G.O.A.T.
i can see why he deems the loss devastating to him in that (aside from the dramatic effect) : he was ahead, it was his only real chance there at the FO, it would have put him further
ahead on the G.O.A.T list, but on the other hand so many other players have had as bad as that and it goes untalked about....lol
federer alone, how many times has he been 2 sets up at W or USO to lose to berdych, tsonga, anderson, djokovic....
the djokovic one alone where he had 2 match pts in the semifinal USO seems worse than macs FO to me...lol
With Berdych he never was 2 set up and lose.
About his matches against Djokovic, only you can count a choke in 2011.
The Serbian saved those match points in 2010 with him serving and dictating the point.
And please, the fans only remind when think their idol wasted opportunities but never the other way around.
Is pointless!
 

DNShade

Hall of Fame
What is the thing when the other cameraman hits the microphone with the numbered placard ?
What sort of filmmaking technique is that? Synch up audio and video and number the segments?
Just an easy way of getting a mark to sync sound - like clapping etc. Very common. Still done today even with top of the line HD cams when you are recording sound separately.
 

hoodjem

G.O.A.T.
Ooohh! Thanks. I was going to ask if any streaming service had picked it up.

I may be able to watch it.
I have watched about 22 minutes so far of this 95 minute film.

So far it is not a film about McEnroe. It is a film about making a film about McEnroe. Very French.
 
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The footage is incredible.
Nothing like any TV footage you have ever seen in your life.
It also shows that Mac was a lit fuse and almost punched reporters.
He truly had serious and chronic anger issues far deeper than his famous tantrums
 

hoodjem

G.O.A.T.
The footage is incredible.
Nothing like any TV footage you have ever seen in your life.
It also shows that Mac was a lit fuse and almost punched reporters.
He truly had serious and chronic anger issues far deeper than his famous tantrums
Yes. On some points or strokes, it shows the same action and movement from three different cameras.

As far as Mac's anger issues, at one time in the film he is shown repeatedly berating an invisible cameraman hidden under the bleachers. It seems quite surreal because Mac is seen cursing--not at a person--but at a rectangular black hole in the wall at the back of the court.
 
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