WorldCup66 Live: a misconceived media mess

30th July 2016

As you may have noticed I am fascinated by the developing forms of ‘event cinema’. I even have a go at producing some from time to time, including the recent Almeida Theatre Live: Richard III. Live theatre, operas, concerts and the like is often compelling on a large screen and is invariably enhanced when watched with an engaged audience. So I’m always intrigued to experience experiments with the form, like this afternoon’s WorldCup66 Live. As you read what follows, remember that I dabble with similar projects, so I may be unfairly biased. But I feel fairly certain that you too would think that this was a muddled and shambolic farrago. (Incidentally the BBC photograph above has nothing to do with the WorldCup66 event, but is just a glorious production shot from the television operation in 1966, and comes from here.)

WorldCup66 is a live event from Wembley Arena. Which is, as co-host Jeremy Vine (partnering Louise Minchin) reminds us on several occasions, just yards from where England’s heroes battled for World Cup glory fifty years ago today. Proximity appears to be important, even if Wembley Arena wasn’t built in 1966, and Wembley Stadium is today an entirely different structure.

Put together by a company called TBI (‘The Big Idea’), WorldCup66 is a concert with a 24-piece orchestra (mixed in the cinema’s audio feed far too loud, and drowning out the speakers) and a bunch of bands doing cover versions of songs from ’66. Reef bash out ‘Paint it Black’, it’s lovely to see The Shires singing Dusty Springfield’s ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’, and it’s not a little bizarre to see the actual Chris Farlowe (b. 1940) give us ‘Out of Time’, which topped the charts exactly 50 years ago.

We also get a handful of actors reading bits from the likes of Nobby Stiles’ memoirs. (I’m not making this up.) Because WorldCup66 also wants to be social history. So Jeremy and Louise, together with said actors putting on funny voices, tell us tales from 30 July 1966. Stories like that of a former POW watching the BBC broadcast with a family in Wales and John Cleese following the game with a lot of Germans a bar in Malaga. We even have witnesses on film, like the fireman who was called out to a chimney fire at the house of an old lady. Believe it or not, his co-workers had to set up her unboxed TV while they dealt with the flames so that they could watch the first half.

The climax of this strand (in the bits I saw) is the actual appearance on stage of a man who had been born during the broadcast. There he is, alongside his Mum, who had been going to name him Sidney. But after the first goal, scored by Geoff Hurst, she decided that his moniker should be Geoffrey. He is, so he tells Louise, “very proud of the lads”.

What WorldCup66 really is is a radio show, conceived primarily for Radio 2. So Jeremy and Louise and the actors all use scripts for their contributions, looking down at lecterns and for the most part failing to engage the eyelines of the few of us (of which more below) watching in cinemas. Had anyone thought about the visual aspect of all this, they might have decided that autocue would be a good idea, so that at least we felt that in some way we were being included.

But what WorldCup66 really isn’t is any kind of show conceived for cinema – or for television, although apparently it was also on the red button service, and so perhaps is even on BBC iPlayer. There’s a fancy set with a lot of lights, but the treatment of the fundamental visual element – archive footage of the game – is simply inept.

There are two key moving image records of the final: the monochrome BBC live broadcast, which records the whole game, and the official FIFA-backed feature film Goal! The World Cup, shot on colour 35mm film but featuring only fragments of the final. Both the television transmission and the movie were shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio, but here the BBC footage is stretched to fill a 16:9 frame and Goal! has the top and bottom of each frame lopped off to achieve, er, the same goal. Maybe only nerds like me care about such disrespect, but I sense that pretty much everyone would have been irritated by the way WorldCup66 cut between the two sources and between full-frame images and wide shots of the auditorium with the footage playing on big screens.

The editing and mixing felt unrehearsed, and the overall scrappiness meant that one had little sense of the flow of the game or of how the goals were actually scored. Presumably because the archive footage was (a) hard to clear and (b) expensive, there was also strikingly little of it across the two and a half hours of WorldCup66. The overwhelming majority of the screen time was taken up with the tribute bands and trivial tales like that of the chimney fire.

The sense of something thrown together at the last moment was exemplified by the shambolic start, at least as it played out at the exemplary Clapham Picturehouse. The starting time was advertised as 2.30pm, but ticket-holders – all five of us (yes, that’s five) – were not let in until 2.35. Apparently a technical test was still taking place. Once inside, the screen told us there was still more than 8 minutes to go before the beginning.

When we did finally cut to Jeremy saying “We’re live in cinemas…” it quickly became apparent that the broadcast had begun several minutes before the moment when shots should have appeared on our screens. Cue general mucking about at Wembley Arena, obvious embarassment from the stage, a lengthy silence, and then more embarassment before Jeremy once again welcomed us with “We’re live in cinemas…”

Perhaps the last thing to be said is that it was impossible to imagine who might have been satisfied with watching WorldCup66. Certainly not football fans, who would have got little sense of the game. Indeed I felt very sorry for the man five rows in front me of who had turned up in his England short. He walked out with his friend around a half hour in. I doubt social historians – should they have been tempted to stump up £15 for a ticket – would have been satisfied. Nor even those music fans mad for a nostalgia fest of the hits of ’66. But I hope Geoffrey and his mum had a good time.

Perhaps (although somehow I doubt this) WorldCup66 played better on Radio 2. But at half-time I mentally made my excuses and left. Which left just a couple who seemed happy enough chatting through the show, checking their e-mails and sinking the occasional pint. If this was a game of two halves, the second was spent to much better effect wandering the streets of Clapham in the July sunshine.

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