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Docurama presents

Go Tigers! (2001)

"It's safe to say football saved my life. It's as simple as that."- Ellery Moore

Stars: Ellery Moore, Dan Studer, Dave Irwin, Rick Shepas
Other Stars: Joe Paterno, Christopher Smith
Director: Kenneth A. Carlson

MPAA Rating: R for depiction of mature thematic material
Run Time: 01h:42m:56s
Release Date: 2002-09-24
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B-B B


DVD Review

A couple of facts serve well to illustrate just how obsessed they are about high school football in Massillon, Ohio. It's a town of 33,000, and the high school stadium holds 14,000. When Massillon faces off annually against archrival McKinley, it's the only high school game in the country for which there's a betting line in Las Vegas. Each newborn baby boy at the local hospital automatically receives a visit from a Massillon booster, bearing a gift: a football, for it's never too early to indoctrinate the sons of Massillon in the ways of the town. Go, Tigers!

Filmmaker Kenneth A. Carlson returns to his hometown for this fine sociological portrait of football culture in small-town America—it's like a documentary version of The Last Picture Show, and has much in common with Friday Night Lights, H. G. Bizzinger's excellent book about a similarly football-obsessed community, in west Texas.

The focus here is on the three senior captains of the 1999 Massillon squad. Dave Irwin plays quarterback, and nearly loses a finger in metal shop class—it's not the possibility of permanent disfigurement that bothers him, but the thought that he might miss this weekend's game. Dan Stuber carries the burden of being a coach's son, and seems weighed down by what he likes to refer to as the legacy of "the Stuber name"—added pressure comes because Dad's job is on the line. There's a property tax levy up for a vote, and it's been defeated several times before; the thinking is that a victory over archrival McKinley will create enough good feeling to pass the levy, and keep Mr. Stuber's job from being eliminated.

Ellery Moore, the third and final captain, seems to have the most on-field skill—legendary Penn State head coach Joe Paterno pays a visit to Massillon to scout him—and he's a particularly engaging on-camera presence. But there's no small amount of family trouble with the Moores, as we learn that Ellery spent his ninth-grade year in prison, for the alleged rape of his stepsister, when he was twelve and she was eleven. The most appalling part of this is not the rape charge (which is surely bad enough), but that Ellery's father convinced his son to cop a plea and do some hard time, rather than face the inconvenience of a trial.

The film follows the Tigers through the season, after the humiliation of the previous year's 4-6 campaign—Massillon simply cannot have another losing record. But the focus isn't on wins and losses, rather on what football means to the town. It's the fulcrum of civic life, with enthusiastic participation from the mayor, the school administrators, pretty much everyone in Massillon that lives and breathes. (There are a couple of students that are jaded about high school football, who don't get with the program; they all vow to leave town as soon as they graduate, and from the looks of things, their predecessors who said the same thing were as good as their word.)

Some of the stuff is familiar to any of us from high school—drunken football players sucking down many beers from a funnel, for instance, and then promptly throwing up on their own shoes. It's repellent and smelly, but I'd wager that it goes on with just about every high school football team in America. Then there's the vehemence with which Massillon's opponent are regarded—students routinely scream at the camera about a rival high school: "F*** Perry!" And if the intrusion of the filmmakers were an issue, it was only so for opposing players, one of whom can be seen mouthing to the crew after a loss: "F***in' camera."

But what's sort of jaw-dropping is the stuff that everyone in the town takes as a matter of course—the three captains all repeated eighth grade, not because of academic issues, but rather to allow them to be that much bigger and stronger before their varsity eligibility runs out. And there's more trickle down, too, when Massillon is accused of recruiting violations—they want to be big time, and they're prepared to do anything to get there. The idea of, for instance, redshirting junior high schoolers is so deeply academically corrupt, and everyone in Massillon seems to know it, but hey, maybe it'll help the team beat McKinley down the road, and really, isn't that more important than educating our young people?

The tax levy stuff I found especially galling—these are working-class folks, and you can understand their not being too enthused about voting for an increase in their taxes. And from the looks of things—peeling paint, rusting metal, insufficient classroom materials—the school is indeed strapped for cash. But not the football team, whose uniforms look just so and whose lockers absolutely sparkle. Carlson does a fine job letting the circumstances speak for themselves, but I do think he makes one misstep, in crosscutting between the Tigers' season finale, and the levy vote a couple of days later. It feels more like an editor going a little wacky in front of an AVID, and lacks the restraint and control that characterizes the rest of the feature.

But that's fairly minor stuff in the scheme of things, and in general the film presents Massillon both in its glory and full of tarnish. It's a fine sports documentary that earns its comparisons to a well-received film like Hoop Dreams.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The movie was shot on high definition video, which means that the filmmakers were largely unencumbered by enormous equipment and were able to get images of reasonably high quality, but still, there are limits to the technical capacity of the medium. Some of the footage looks grainy and contrasty in this transfer, but it seems like the right balance was struck, between video of even poorer quality and the intrusiveness of old-style documentary equipment.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The vérité style of shooting doesn't lend itself to great audio quality, but things here actually sound pretty good—dialogue is clean and largely free of interference, and there's plenty of grunting and crunching in the trenches without blowing out the audio equipment. Dynamics are steady, though the bass occasionally dominates rather more than it should.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
3 Original Trailer(s)
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Regret to Inform. Speaking In Strings, Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back, Paul Taylor: Dancemaker, Fastpitch, Sound and Fury, Sophie B. Hawkins: The Cream Will Rise, Todd McFarlane: The Devil You Know
8 Deleted Scenes
2 Featurette(s)
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Massillon Tigers Hall of Champions
  2. four songs from the soundtrack, by Katrina Carlson
  3. player updates
  4. Docurama catalog
  5. DVD credits
Extras Review: The eight deleted scenes seem to have been cut either for technical reasons (one is of a pep rally at McKinley, and the sound quality is so poor that the speakers are basically inaudible) or because they're a little off point, but they're worth a look. One concerns the town's concerted effort to get one of their own on a Wheaties box—Massillonians were eating nothing but Wheaties for weeks, baking Wheaties cookies, sprinkling crushed Wheaties on top of casseroles, and finding other innovations. The campaign was successful, and Chris Spielman, who went on to greater glory at Ohio State and in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, was on the packaging of the breakfast of champions. Another great cut clip is of a guy identified only as Big Cunn, leader of the Village Idiots, the self-appointed spirit group for the Tigers—they're a bunch of guys who cover themselves in paint and scream and shout at the top of their lungs. Big Cunn gives us a tour of his special Tigers van, and he's more than a little reminiscent of the Chris Farley character from Saturday Night Live, the motivational speaker hollering about his "van down by the river!"

There's an interview with Spielman (09m:44s), discussing Wheaties and other things about his high school, and he's all Massillon. Touchdown Town (08m:12s) is a 1951 newsreel about football-crazy Massillon—it's been a half century, but nothing's changed, other than that now the footage is in color. The Massillon Tigers Hall of Champions profiles twenty-eight greats who played for the school, with their portraits and statistics.

Also included is a brief biography of Kenneth A. Carlson, the film's director, and four songs from the soundtrack by Katrina Carlson, who I'm guessing is either the director's wife, or his sister. Three original trailers, along with a healthy number from the Docurama catalog, round out the package of extras.

Extras Grade: B

Final Comments

After watching this, you probably won't want to lace 'em up or move to Massillon, but this is a well-drawn portrait of a football-loopy town made by a native son. This is much more than a highlight reel, and should fascinate even those who are repelled by football; a healthy dose of extras will only help to further immerse you in this world. Recommended.

Jon Danziger 2002-09-22