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Film Review – ’85: The Greatest Team in Pro Football History is an Amateurish Disaster

| February 8th, 2018

There are two ways I evaluate documentaries, my second favorite genre of film behind the movie musical. (1) Is the content compelling? (2) Is the presentation of the content compelling? There are plenty of documentaries that satisfy one and not the other. There are hours of Holocaust footage assembled into difficult-to-watch “documentaries” but that content isn’t presented with any artistry, most likely because it doesn’t require any. Andy Warhol’s docs are studied in film schools for their approach to the form (and Jonas Mekas’ camera work) but try sitting through Empire. Seriously. Try.

When the content and presentation are both compelling we find documentary genius. Usually this kind of work is reserved for artists like Errol Morris, Agnes Varda, Alex Gibney, Frederick Wiseman and D.A. Pennebaker. It yields films like Harlan County USA, How to Survive a Plague, Grizzly Man and, of course, Hoop Dreams.

And sports have always been a fertile playground for documentary as that last film mentioned proved. Sports lends itself perfectly to reflection, especially when additional insight from those who experienced the game is added. There are game histories; NFL Network’s America’s Game series was breathtaking. There are moments in history; the Bill Simmons-led 30-for-30 series on ESPN has popularized the art form for a whole new audience. And there are high art masterpieces; Hoop Dreams and The Two Escobars are probably the best sports docs ever made because like all great sports movies they are not about sports.

’85: The Greatest Team in Pro Football History, a documentary by Scott Prestin, is a terrible piece of filmmaking (with a stupid title). It is incoherent, boring and endlessly redundant. There is not a single new moment, not ONE piece of new information, in its entire, bloated 1:41 run time.


Skip the film and just watch the video above.


And even those failures would have been tolerable if the film wasn’t so amateurishly presented.

When the legendary stage director Hal Prince adapted the Stephen Sondheim musical A Little Night Music for the movies, the equally-legendary film critic Pauline Kael asked in her review if Prince had ever SEEN a movie before. This is how I felt watching ’85. No one should expect Prestin’s first effort to be The Thin Blue Line but it should at least be something one wouldn’t mind watching on their phone will commuting ON the blue line.

Quick notes…

  • Narration is never established and seems to drift in and out of the film for no reason whatsoever. Narration is a huge choice when it comes to this form. Prestin still hasn’t made that choice.
  • Matt Walsh is one of the funniest men on the planet and a true Bears fan. But Matt Walsh makes no sense as narrator for a film like this unless you set-up his stake in the game. But ultimately the voice of this film must sound authentically Chicago, tied to that time and place. Joe Mantegna is in the damn film. Just hire him!
  • The film opens with audio from President Obama talking about “changing the world”. I’d argue this is the worst choice in the history of documentary cinema. Obama? Changing the world? This is a documentary about a football team that didn’t even change the NFC! Oh, and Mr. Prestin, if you open your doc on a political note, you can’t just abandon that concept two minutes later.
  • You don’t need to identify subjects multiple times. And the title of the film shouldn’t be in their ID chryon. It’s tacky.
  • When you do identify them, you should probably leave the name on the screen long enough for an audience member to read it. Matt Suhey’s name was up there for maybe a second. And that’s Matt Suhey we’re talking about. Die-hard Bears fans don’t know what Suhey looks like right now.
  • Hire a writer. You’ve got Rick Telander in the picture. Ask him to write some stuff. The narration is written for eight, maybe nine year-olds. Describing Buddy Ryan: “He also worked them relentlessly, like any drill sergeant would their troops.” That kind of writing gets criticized in middle school.
  • On that note, why do I need an exterior of Rick Telander’s house? It’s so jarring I literally hit pause. Who the hell cares what Rick Telander’s house looks like? We don’t get exteriors of the Ditka, Singletary, McMahon, Bill Murray locations but we get one for Telander as if a horrible crime happened in that location.
  • What is up with the pacing? Slow down. Take your time. Set up themes. Tell stories. This is the kind of documentary made by someone who doesn’t understand that the art of documentary filmmaking truly happens in the editing room. I’m not sure Prestin cut anything he shot, which is odd because so much of what he shot is crap.
  • Jeremy Piven: “No one knew Ron Rivera was a linebacker on the team!” First of all, what the hell is Jeremy Piven doing in this film? Second, who didn’t know that? Is the audience for this film people who don’t know anything about the team?

Folks, that’s all in the first half hour. I stopped taking notes at that point. But if you plan on sitting through this picture in the foreseeable future, I will warn you: it does NOT get better. It is a film on cocaine. And just like everyone else I’ve known on cocaine, it speaks too fast, says too little and is ultimately way more annoying than it is fun to be around.

The 1985 Chicago Bears have been exploited for every nickel possible. It’s over. Thirty-two years of nickels is enough. With this cinematic nightmare, the team’s coverage has finally jumped the shark.


If you want a crash course in the 1985 Bears…

  • America’s Game from NFL Network (available above) featured McMahon, Singletary and Ditka and was easily the most entertaining film in the wonderful series.
  • Rich Cohen’s Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football is my favorite book of the last decade. It’s a brand new perspective on seemingly well-worn territory.
  • There was a DVD release for the 20th anniversary of the Super Bowl Shuffle that featured an excellent behind the scenes short doc on the making of the song. Worth finding on Amazon.
  • Didn’t love the 30-for-30 on the ’85 Bears but the Singletary/Buddy Ryan material was at least NEW stuff.
  • Just go watch the entirety of Super Bowl XX RIGHT HERE.

Tagged: , ,

  • Shu

    I have to agree 100%. I paid nearly $60 for me and 3 of my sons to go watch it. The “documentary” was trash. I felt bad for having subjected my kids to it. It was by far the worst “documentary” I’ve ever seen.

  • That Guy

    Wait, Ron Rivera was on the 1985 Bears? I was wondering who was that Hispanic-looking guy wearing #59 in all the 1985 games I have on DVD. And I’ve NEVER heard anyone associated with the NFL talk about current/former head coaches like Rivera, Singletary, Frazier, and how they played together on the ’85 Bears. Next thing you’ll be telling me, Jim Harbaugh played for the Bears, too!

    And I’ll say this: Joe Mantegna is the classic Chicago accent/voice. He should do the narration for anything having to do with Chicago, because his voice just sounds like the city.

    • DaBearsBlog

      For me, the perfect voices for Chicago are Mantegna and the late Dennis Farina.

      • CanadaBear

        Don’t forget your pal Adam. That accent is as Chicago as it gets.

        • BerwynBomber

          Love him or hate him … Mike North’s.

    • BearDown100393

      Narrated by Jay Cutler

    • BenderMcLugh

      anyone been to Montenga’s restaurant in Burbank? It looks damn good

      https://tastechicago.biz/

  • KentuckyBearsFan

    I thought the point of “Hoop Dreams” was that hoop dreams suck.

    There are better dreams.

  • 505Bears

    Hellllloooo…Blue Chips…The story of how Nick Nolte discovered Shaq and Penny!! Now that’s a good documentary 🙂

    • BearDown100393

      Rick wanted a tractor.

  • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

    Wrong! Greatest Documentary Ever!! Future HOFer!!!

  • 505Bears

    I was one saying dude gave up too much for Binky…but this story makes sense https://sports.yahoo.com/m/45dcfcda-39a5-3914-9e34-b28e8e94f6c0/ss_with-2017-season-in-the.html

    • SC Dave

      No, it doesn’t really make much sense. The presumption is that Trubisky is a franchise QB, and we have no real reason to assume that at this point.

      • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

        He is being treated and groomed as he is the franchise QB. They are not going to just dump him or trade him, or draft another. For the Bears at this point he is the only option that matters, and he will be given every opportunity to succeed or fail. So for all intents and purposes, he is the Franchise QB.

        • evantonio

          He’s our franchise’s QB. That’s different than being a franchise QB.

          • Scharfinator

            Well put, evan.

            He’s the franchise QB in the sense we will sink a number of years of our team into him.

            IF it works out, then he’s a Franchise QB.

          • Dis Guy Trublinsky (Johnnywad)
    • Dis Guy Trublinsky (Johnnywad)

      You’re about to be reminded that Pace was stupid to give up anything to move up to get him. None of us have any way of knowing whether he needed to move up or not. But that won’t change the narrative that follows. Brace yourself.

      • needing to move up or not is irrelevant, Pace took no chances and got the guy he wanted. Everybody forgets, got some picks back by trading down in the 2nd round. I would consider trading UP for Quentin Nelson and do the same in 2nd.

  • CanadaBear

    After all the hooey that has been filmed and written about that team, you would think the film maker would know the doc needed a different angle or new info. Really disappointing to read this. Other than musicals I totally trust Jeff’s take on this. Not that he’s wrong on musicals it’s just I’d rather dig a ditch than watch a musical.

    • Dis Guy Trublinsky (Johnnywad)

      Ditto

    • BearDown100393

      There you go:

      ’85 Bears – Super Bowl Shuffle Musical Extravaganza

      Tony Award Winner

    • BenderMcLugh

      Oliver is a must see musical, you’d be surprised how much you’ll like it. Sound of Music is probably my 2nd fav.

      • CanadaBear

        Unless it’s a music doc, I truly hate musicals. When the orchestra fires up and someone starts singing out of the blue, I’m moving on. Nothing against anyone I just have this unnatural dislike for the art form.

        • BenderMcLugh

          hahah yeah I hear ya. The wifey is the same way with musicals. Oliver just really stuck with me.

          • Irish Sweetness

            “As long as heeeeee neeeeeeeeds meeeeeee….”

        • nttawwt

      • Irish Sweetness

        Is this like Gay Amnesty day for Musical appreciation?

        Okay. I like West Side Story, A Chorus Line, Singin’ in the Rain, Bender’s two, and The Wizard of Oz.

        I do not listen to Celine Dion nor do I wear sandals.

        • Dis Guy Trublinsky (Johnnywad)

          LOL.

          (Irish quietly rolls up his Celine poster and walks it out to the shed in his Birkenstocks)

    • John F

      Blues Brothers ……………… BEST.MUSICAL.EVER

  • BuddhaJoe

    “This is Spinal Tap” is clearly the best documentary, just sayin.

    • CanadaBear

      This doc is one of my faves. I spent a couple hours with Howard and Ted back in the 80’s. Crazy fun. Also, got to meet and see Yank Rachell perform. Great memories.

    • Vivian

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  • Question: Brady or Walter Payton Who is the GOAT?
    Well if you guys want to watch a nice little movie, try this:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ED0h8GqdCCQ only 5 minutes long and features ZOMBIE Hookers. Please subscribe to my channel.

    • SC Dave

      Butkus

    • Irish Sweetness

      Dude I can show you some Zombie hookers. Man, meth is a helluva drug.

  • BearDown100393

    The sequel will be Build Da Man: ’13-’14 The Greatest Embarrassment In Bears History narrated by Marc Trestman & Phil Emery

  • BearDown100393
    • evantonio

      Jesus Balls. That’s a lot of money for a dude who hasn’t played 10 games in his career.

      Kirk Cousins must be very happy today.

      • KentuckyBearsFan

        Yeah but 74M guaranteed in SoCal is like only 65M in Boston. It’s like he’s working for free.

        (for being 10 times better than 2017 Mike Glennon)

    • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

      That is ridiculous, I hope there is an easy out after a couple years.

      • Dis Guy Trublinsky (Johnnywad)

        Why? I hope he sucks and the Niners eat every crumb of a giant shit sandwich. Fuck the Niners.

        That’s a crazy amount of money to sign a guy with his resume to. He DID look the part, but that’s a small sample size.

        • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

          I forgot John Lynch is the greatest GM ever, and is able to hustle other GMs for picks and trades. So it has to be good contract for the Niners.

          • BearDown100393

            The master of fleecing.

          • SC Dave

            Clearly, since he hoodwinked Pace

        • BerwynBomber

          Not me. I want to see him do relatively well and for Brady to fall off a cliff.

          Not that I am convinced either will happen but would be funny to see Kraft’s special compensation for Tommy blow up in his face.

          • Dis Guy Trublinsky (Johnnywad)

            Also a nice story line.

            Remind me the name of the show you mentioned a few days back.

          • BerwynBomber

            Mindhunter

      • willbest

        I suspect the last 2 years on the deal are $32 million a piece and its really just a 3-year ~25 mil a year deal.

        • Dis Guy Trublinsky (Johnnywad)

          He’s guaranteed $90M the first three years according to my son. I haven’t read it, but he’s generally on top of this stuff.

          • willbest

            I saw $74 million guarantees, but I don’t know if that is fully or just for injury or if perhaps it is set up in staggered amounts like Cutler’s contract was.

          • Dis Guy Trublinsky (Johnnywad)

            I saw the same thing. I think the lad is just wrong.

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            Schefter reported on ESPN that it was $90mill, but that was a couple hours ago so who knows now.

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis
          • Dis Guy Trublinsky (Johnnywad)

            Makes you wonder how there can be differing reports. Is somebody just making shit up?

      • SC Dave

        Well, I’m sure Brady hates it. So there’s that at least.

  • John F

    For anyone who is into documentaries, here are some of my suggestions (in no particular order):

    – Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession
    – The Kid Stays in the Picture
    – Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse
    – Lost in La Mancha
    – The Times of Harvey Milk
    – Sound City
    – Restrepo
    – The 16th man (30 for 30)
    – The Thin Blue Line (mentioned above)

    • Irish Sweetness

      Man, I’ve only seen Restrepo off that list.

      • Same here

        • John F

          First four are about movies, Harvey Milk is about a SF councilman – absolutely crazy story, Sound City is recording studio in Van Nuys, CA that recorded some of the most famous albums ever, 16th Man is about Mandela/S. Africa and rugby, Blue Line is about a guy wrongly convicted in Texas

  • Lots of docs. So I’ll just list some off the top of my head.

    Science: The Inexplicable Universe with Neil Degrasse [Netflix]
    Science: The Farthest: Voyager in Space [Netflix]
    Nature: Planet Earth (I and II) Netflix
    Animal: BlackFish (doc on Seaworld) [Netflix?]
    Cult: Pumping Iron (Gubanator) [Netflix]
    History: The Civil War (anything with Ken Burns)
    Economics: Enron The Smartest Guys in the Room
    WWII: WWII in Colour [Netflix]
    Cop/Mafia: The Seven Five [Netflix]
    Mafia: Inside the American Mob

    Here’s a cool doc site I found

    https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/

    • BearDown100393

      Burns documentaries as you mentioned…. brilliant stuff. Last one was Vietnam.

      • Haven’t watched the Vietnam one yet because I have bone spurs, but naturally, I will and expect it to be great as all his other stuff.

      • Irish Sweetness

        Great. I’ve only watched the first two so far, but really good.

        The Legion of Brothers (?) doc on the first insert to Afghanistan was good. As one SF guy said, we sent over 100 guys and brought down the Taliban. We sent over 20,000 troops and we’ve been bogged down ever since.

      • BerwynBomber

        Heard the Vietnam one was excellent, but some of his stuff (after Civil War and Baseball) kinda oversold and under-delivered.

        Thinking specifically about the one on WW2.

        Basically only wanted to tell the American side of the European theater part, which has been done to death and it only about 20% of the total European theater story. I checked out midway thru the second episode.

    • Irish Sweetness

      Loved The Farthest. I used to think the Apollo missions were the best thing we’d ever done, but to think that billions of years after we’re gone, little old Voyager 1 will still be hurtling towards the nearest star.

      Cool site – and there’s Richard Feynman staring out at us!

      Aside: Just watched The Fog of War. Again.

      In it, the Americans are trying to make a nuclear arms treaty with Russia. They tell McNamara that if they try and cap the number of tests, the Soviets will just cheat. McNamara says “How will they cheat?”, the response : “The Russians will test them on the far side of the moon.” Then the screen shows the far side of the moon … which looks like …?

      Are they really all asteroid craters? Any one of those could have ended life on Earth. And to this day, no person has ever stood on the far side of the moon.

      • SC Dave

        Oh gawd, you don’t BELIEVE that shit, do you?

        • Irish Sweetness

          The Apollo missions … or exploding nukes on the far side of the moon?

          We went to the moon. Clearly. Did anyone explode nukes behind the moon? I wish they’d exploded all of them back there. We’ve detonated 2000 nukes here on Earth. There’s got to be a cost for that ….

          Namely, becoming a place of interest for our cosmic brothers and sisters, concerned with our nuclear explosions which could be reverberating through parallel dimensions ….

          {IRISH! NO!}

          BUT IT’S THE OFF-SEASON!!

          (Runs off to his hidey-hole beneath the stairs holding Bigfoot)

    • BerwynBomber

      I’m assuming Jeff didn’t mention any Burns stuff because they are series for TV as opposed to feature documentaries for theaters.

  • Irish Sweetness

    Grizzly Man was a great Doc. Herzog did another good (shorter) one on people who have killed people driving while texting that contains a shining example of the power of forgiveness.

  • BerwynBomber

    MIN hiring Flip to replace Shurmur as OC.

  • Cormonster

    All these documentaries listed, and none about Florida Man? The doc Vernon, FL is a masterpiece.

    The Battered Bastards of Baseball is another great documentary about the last independent minor league team in the 70’s. You don’t even need to be a baseball fan to really enjoy it.

    • Irish Sweetness

      Thanks Cor, I’ll check that one out.

      Oh, I just remembered one. Big River Man. The mad bastard that swims the longest rivers in the world (Lengthways!) with a bottle of wine strapped to him. Martin Strel(?). He did the Amazon. With piranha! Fuck that.

      ‘In the Shadow of the Moon’ – the only people in it who speak are the men who went to the moon. Breathtaking.

  • Vivian

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