Movies about sport are a rare thing; even rarer when you exclude the cycling / travel show genre. So that is why you need to make the most of one of the most talked about films of the New Zealand Film Festival currently doing the rounds; Fire in Babylon.
It’s a documentary of the great West Indian era of the 20 years starting from the mid 1970s. It mixes footage from that era with interviews of the main players now. And, for good measure it throws in interviews with fans; the man with the white Rastafarian beard and the guy in a suit swiped from the set of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum stealing the show.
The story starts in the Golden Era of fast bowling and the tour of Australia when Lillee & Thomson were in their pomp. The footage is graphic; batsman after batsman being felled in the days prior to helmets and when pitches had a bit of pace and juice in them.
That got Clive Lloyd thinking. He decided that the backbone of a winning side was pace, and then more pace, and decided to spend the next season travelling around the Caribbean searching for fast bowlers. And the blueprint was set.
They are portrayed not so much as a team, but as a movement. They are all exactly how you would hope they would be in middle age; Lloyd’s calmness, Greenidge’s half English accent, Holding’s lilt, and Croft’s wired eccentricity.
Justifiably, they can not hide their pride. They were unbeaten in test series, home and away, for 15 years. An extraordinary achievement in any sport. And, inevitably, there was a special thrill in the demolitions of England; from the revenge for Tony Grieg’s infamous “We will make them grovel” to the blackwash of 1984.
And then there’s Viv Richards. If ever we needed reminding of why his impact on the game was greater than naked statistics here it is. The swagger, the chewing of the gum, the deep voice and the nonchalant stare stand him apart; both as a player and in the interviews now. The dismissive way he described how the South Africans got him to name his price to join the Rebel Tour showed just how much influence he had in his prime. And the photo of Ian Botham adoring him after yet another England defeat was quite revealing.
There is some good footage throughout; including the ferociousness of the bowling, the majesty of Holding’s action, and the Packer years when they almost managed to make shocking pink cool.
But it’s the use of still photography, especially the black & white shots, that really captures the emotions. There’s even the iconic shot of Holding kicking over John Parker’s stumps, which is the sole reference to the ill-fated tour of New Zealand in 1980 which would otherwise have got in the way of the narrative.
Needless to say, the soundtrack is powerful too. Bob Marley and the Wailers, Gregory Issacs, Faithless and Horace Andy. There is something about the cricket and reggae mix.
Fire in Babylon. Part of the New Zealand Film festival.