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2 reviews, 1 rating

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Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Apparently Pele was off doing "Victory 2" . . ."
2 stars

Like many kids who grew up in the 1970's, I played soccer for several years in organized youth leagues before hanging up my cleats for good once my age reached double-digits–those who doubt this are advised to go to Amazon.com and purchase a copy of the 1979 book “Soccer is Our Game,” a children’s picture book on the sport that featured the team I played on at the time as its subject. (In fact, if you turn to page 4, you will find the last-known photo of myself wearing shorts in public.) However, while kids who played baseball or football may have fantasized about being Pete Rose or Walter Payton, I don’t know of any who yearned to be just like Karl-Heinz Granitza or any other soccer player–outside of Pele, I’m not sure anyone even knew the names of any professional soccer players. Sure, professional soccer existed–I remember seeing a couple of Chicago Sting games back in the day–but it never really took off here because those in charge decided to take a hard-sell approach to the sport in an effort to make a quick return on their investment that was rejected by the very audiences it was designed to attract. The new documentary “Once in a Lifetime–The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos” chronicles the quick rise and quicker fall of professional soccer in America in general and the star-laden New York Cosmos (a team that once fielded such greats as Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer) in particular and ironically, it suffers the same basic flaw as the efforts to sell the game itself–it spends so much time trying to reel viewers in with flash and sizzle that it never allows them a chance to appreciate the subject on its own merits.

In the film, we learn that the New York Cosmos were not brought into being by owner Steve Ross (the then-head of the Warner Communications conglomerate) because of a deep and abiding love of the sport–he developed the team as part of the then-struggling North American Soccer League in order to keep a pair of important music executives in the fold. After a couple of dismal seasons with journeymen players running around on dilapidated fields before small and disinterested crowds, Ross decided to step things up by recruiting the recently retired Brazilian star player Pele with the then-largest payday ever given to a single athlete. Before long, Italian star Giorgio Chinaglia and German ace Franz Beckenbauer were added to the roster and the team began to grow in popularity. Inevitably, a clash of egos led to the downfall of the team at the same time that a clash of bad business decisions led to the complete collapse of the entire league.

There is a compelling story to be found inside of “Once in a Lifetime” but it isn’t the one that co-directors Paul Crowder and John Dower are telling. According to them, and most of those seen in the interview segments, both the team and sport were pure and beautiful things that were nurtured by the love of corporate tycoon Steve Ross and beloved by fans everywhere (“It was like traveling with the Rolling Stones,” remarks one person about going from city to city with the team) that was done in by a combination of expansion problems, a bad TV deal and stupid Americans who lacked the patience to watch a sport that wasn’t chock-full of artificial starts and stops. What I took from it was a gruesome, close-up depiction of what happens when a bunch of people decide to jam something down the public’s throat with a lot of hype, glitz and money thrown around in an effort to buy the enthusiasm of the. Like the sport it chronicles, the film contains a few moments of excitement and interest (mostly involving the extravagant international negotiations that brought Pele to the team–an effort that at one point required the involvement of international statesman/war criminal Henry Kissinger) surrounded by a lot of aimless noodling around consisting of players overinflating the importance of the team and their popularity (such as that insane Rolling Stones comment) while glossing over their own contributions to the failure of the sport to catch on here.

Flashily edited (in a manner that seems to subvert the complaints that the game didn’t succeed here because of short attention spans) and apparently scored with the “Boogie Nights” soundtrack, “Once in a Lifetime” is essentially an extended cable special (it was co-produced by ESPN) and will probably play better there but as a big-screen testament to the glory of professional soccer in America, its importance and relevance can be gauged by the simple fact that Pele, the star of the team, one of the chief selling points of the film and arguably the only soccer player not currently sleeping with a former Spice Girl that most people in America have actually heard of, declined to be interviewed here. Oops, I think I just gave away the surprise ending.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14448&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/14/06 00:01:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2006 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2006 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/07/06 William Goss Interesting enough, but more than a little fascinated with itself. 3 stars
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  07-Jul-2006 (PG-13)



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