Hoop Dreams-1994-Steve James
When Steve James’ epic, nearly three hour, documentary about the dreams of two inner city black kids to become the next Isaiah Thomas was released in 1994, it was to wild critical and popular acclaim, so much so that it’s lack of an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary wound up causing such a ruckus, the rules were changed. The piece, originally intended to be a 30 minute episode on PBS, turned into a 5 year journey following the hopes, dreams, fears, anxieties and aspirations of two boys and their families.
If Hoop Dreams is anything, it is entertaining. While looking at the average running time of a Hollywood epic period piece, groaning can be heard, but once given the chance, the film is an engrossing piece of work that not only gets you to care about the lives of these families but pulls you in with a sense of urgency and heart that few documentaries are able to reach. Oftentimes we are held at arms length by a narrator constantly trying to butt his way in to the story, here, while there is a needless narration, it isn’t intrusive or uninviting, it simply relays to the viewer, like a sports commentator, what is going on at the moment.
While James does happen to do an outstanding job of pacing such a long movie, there happen to be long stretches without one of our beloved main characters making an appearance. While it’s still played out with excellent attention to detail and never a loss of attention, one cannot help but feel something is missing when going for extended amounts of time without one of these two boys.
Upon meeting the boys, we get a slight juxtaposition in their upbringing and overall attitude. William Gates is a shining star. He is charismatic yet shy, but always one step ahead of everyone else. Arthur Agee is scrawny and scrappy, lacking a sense of direction, but with buckets of passion to make up for it. Along the way we get to see the differences in their lives and how they play out to a similar end.
The documentaries most charming aspect is its attention to the characters, be it our main characters, or our supporting cast. We not only get to explore the lives of these young boys hoping for a fulfillment of their dreams, we get a glimpse at how these kids can be taken advantage of, and small but subtle commentaries on religion.
From the coach at
Hoop Dreams was named by Roger Ebert as the best film of the 90’s just ahead of Pulp Fiction. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was the best of the decade, I can say that Ebert isn’t wrong. Hoop Dreams could very well be the decades shining star, but just like the boys who we meet in the film, it doesn’t seem it will ever be given the chance to meet its fullest potential.