Netflix Doco Binge – Nerd Culture (‘Mudbloods’ and ‘Starring Adam West’)
Urgh. It’s exam week. That means I have to spend all my spare time marking essays on film. It also means I’m going to spend a lot of time binge watching something in the background. With Netflix having just arrived in Australia (it’s like we’re a real country now!) this has given me the chance to watch a bunch of documentaries! So this week we’ll be reviewing them two at a time, grouping them by topic.
First, delving into Nerd Culture, we have Mudbloods and Starring Adam West.
Mudbloods (Dir: Farzad Sangari) is an underdog story on many levels. it follows the efforts of the UCLA Quidditch team as they work to raise funds to get to and participate in the Quidditch World Cup in New York and compete with the best. UCLA is the challengers in this competition, standing up to the 4 times World Champions of the sport, and all the players face criticism and taunting from their college peers for playing in the first place.
Now you may have noticed something unusual in the previous paragraph…Quidditch isn’t real. At least, it wasn’t. In case you stumbled upon this site by mistake, Quidditch is a fictional sport from the Harry Potter universe, with it’s most distinct elements involve being played on flying broomsticks and chasing magical flying balls. How can this be played in the real world?
Well, this ambitious group of fans have put together an official league for what they call ‘Muggle Quidditch’. Rather than flying the players all hold a toy broomstick between their legs and must keep one hand on the broom at all times. Points are scored by throwing a volleyball through hoops and ‘Beaters’ can disrupt ‘Chasers’ by throwing dodge balls at them. The Magical Golden Snitch is embodied by a player with a tennis ball in a yellow sock dangling from their back. The Snitch can move anywhere they want, on and off the pitch, around the campus so long as they return to the pitch within a certain time frame so the ‘Seekers’ can attempt to grab the Snitch and end the game. It’s a full contact sport with tackling permitted (one handed) but the Snitch Runner cannot be touched, only the tennis ball.
As odd as the concept may seem there’s no denying the level of excitement and fun you feel watching these matches play out. They’ve done a great job of translating the game to the ground level and it’s a fast, rough and tumble sport. The players are passionate and dedicated to their teams and, in the face of public resistance, they put full effort into building their organisation. Bullying and public perception plays a significant role in the film, showing the responses of passer-bys and discussing some of the negativity they’ve faced and it’s inspiring to hear the players keep perspective when they talk about handling criticism.
It’s easy to get caught up in the ambitions of the players, and for anyone who has felt marginalised for their hobbies and interests it’s got a really strong message behind. It’s good to see such an up-beat community doing what they love regardless of what others think.
Rating: SEVEN out of TEN
At the other end of the spectrum is Starring Adam West (Dir: James E Tooley), a crowdsourced project like Mudbloods that seeks to gain recognition for an iconic figure rather than a group of underdogs. Adam West will be best known for his role as Mayor Adam West in animated sitcom Family Guy, but the role he’s best associated with is as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the 1960s Batman television series.
For many modern viewers the television series is the source of scorn. Compared to the dark and gritty modern iterations of Batman, it’s campy, silly and over the top. What many people fail to understand is that it was, and always is, intended to be a comedy. Running around with an oversized bomb, defeating a shark with ‘Bat Shark Repellent’…these were made to generate laughs, not portray a serious but misguided version of The Dark Knight.
This documentary charts the rise, fall and rise again of West. He slipped easily into the Hollywood system with an easy charm, good looks and a voice which I am delighted to learn was never put on for the role. After featuring in a string of Westerns, West scored the role of Batman, a blockbuster of a show that turned him into a megastar. ‘Batmania’ was very real. When the show wrapped West couldn’t escape from his most famous role. He couldn’t break back into movies and was forced to make tacky public appearances in costume to support his family and 6 children, the accumulated humiliation leading to alcoholism. Ultimately his role brought him back in the spotlight, cultivating a public persona around his good humour and role in geek culture and making the rounds on the convention circuit.
Whilst providing this backstory we also follow some of West’s fans and children in their annual attempt to have Adam West’s star added to the Hollywood walk of fame. In the long run this may not seem like a big deal, but the film uses it to represent the lack of recognition West has seen. One could suppose that the Walk of Fame has marked David Spade, the Olsen Twins and ‘Disneyland’ as worthy of a star, but Adam West wasn’t up to scratch, it is pretty depressing.
It’s all interesting viewing, but what makes this compelling viewing is West himself. With his grounded attitude and non-stop stream of wise cracks it’s hard not to get on side with the film-makers mission. It’s memorable seeing West being approached by fans of all ages on the street and at conventions, all thrilled to met Batman in person. It’s a cool guy.
Rating: EIGHT out of TEN