Film Analysis: Hoop Dreams (1994)
Written by Ann Kelsey
Cinema of the Real: Documentary Films
December 5, 2012
The 1994 Documentary, Hoop Dreams, directed by Steve James, is a masterful display of human drama. The story-line is so captivating and theatrical that it seems crafted from fiction. The Documentary boasts cinematic techniques and private investigating that rivals most film of this time period. The film follows the high school careers of two boys from the Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago. The aggressive authenticity of cinema verite does not only peek through in character emotion, but film’s beginning came together naturally. James tells Robert Ebert in 2009, "A talent scout for suburban high schools led us to Arthur. Through Arthur we happen to met William. We kept right on filming from that. We never did get much more, but we kept on filming (Ebert, 1).” Through commendable efforts in precise cinematography, narrative, and continuity editing- the stories of Arthur Agee and William Gates widened the eyes of America. In all my years of studying cinema I have yet to watch a movie, documentary or not, that has touched me this deeply.
The superiority of Hoop Dreams goes well beyond the scope of a Film student. Apart from his assessment, Hoop Dreams is decorated with over twelve awards. To name a few; The Sundance Film Festival Audience Aware for Best Documentary in 1994, 1994 Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Best Documentary, 1994 Chicago Film Critics Award: Best Picture, 1995 Academy Award Nomination: Best Editing and In 2007, the International Documentary Association selected Hoop Dreams as the all-time greatest documentary (IMDb).
The fates of Arthur and William began in the hands of Earl Smith, a talent scout for several high schools that recruits impressionable grammar school kids. College-style recruitment at the disturbingly young age of twelve. He recruited Both Arthur Agee and William Gates to play basketball for St. Joseph's High School. The opening sequences have the boys at same starting point and their divergence from each other climaxes in the narrative as Agee is forced to drop out of St. Joseph’s. Polarization starts to pull at the audience empathy as Gates’s education is fully payed for, but injures to his knee junior year hinder his prophesy of NBA stardom. Both protagonists had humble beginnings but each had their time in the spotlight from basketball. Various themes in the film include poverty and the class system, race, drugs, family, fatherhood, the American dream, sports, individualism, and hope in contrast with struggle. Through a remarkable intertwining of two young men, the superiority of Hoop Dreams is unquestionable.
A well-done documentary of social representation can be more powerful than even it’s creators imagined. James consciously balanced aesthetics with his ethical responsibilities as an artist. Ethically speaking, Hoop Dreams gave well-built attention to timely issues that went generally untouched during the early 90’s. Steve James made the reality of families living in projects visible to classes living outside of its poverty. James was smart and empathetic in using Cabrini-Green house as the documentary space because it bears a recognizable familiarity to the “ghetto” stereotype people imagine. Gaven Lamert, screenwriter and notable author, describes the irreversible power that Hoop Dreams can have in society;
“In the broadest sense, they are films of protest; they are not conceived in sweeping terms... but the camera-eye they turn on society... disenchanted, and occasionally ferocious and bitter.... IF compassion is explicit in Lorenza /Mazeti’s film (Together), implicit in Lindsay Anderson’s (O Dreamland), it is the most rigorous, difficult and austere kind of compassion: not for the moment or the particular situation, but a kind of permanent temperamental...