It’s that very notion that documentarian Jane Preston abides by in her latest endeavour Gascoigne, which runs chronologically through the life and career of one of the beautiful game’s most beautiful players. Beginning with his childhood, and his early days at Newcastle United, we proceed through to his glorious years at Spurs, to a stint in Italy with Lazio, before heading back to Britain to play for Glasgow Rangers – with various, infamous England appearances littered in between. There have been many highs, and significant lows in his career – from his FA Cup final heartbreak, to the tears at Italia ’90, to the moment he graciously chipped the ball over a helpless Colin Hendry and fired home against Scotland in Euro ’96. Each moment we’ve seen countless times before – now being presented in Gazza’s own words, each memory embellished with a comic sense of context, as the subject explains each situation, the conversations that preceded them, and the reactions that followed, enriching them in the process.
Football is the paramount focus, there isn’t a single mention of his daughter, or ex-wife, and the only other talking heads other than Gazza himself are Jose Mourinho, former teammate Gary Lineker and Wayne Rooney – the latter telling a hilarious story of when Gazza went into the Everton youth’s dressing room and said, “who wants to go out tonight?” Only Rooney put his hand up, so Gazza walked over, gave him £40 and then went on his way. That’s one of countless tales that will bring a smile to the face of any viewer (even Arsenal and Celtic fans), as despite physically resembling a shadow of his former self, Gascoigne hasn’t lost that sparkle in his eyes, a cheeky irreverence, and an affable, magnanimous persona that makes for a likeable figure. His anecdotes illuminate this feature, like his first meeting with Princess Diana (it’s not easy to play football with a hard on, apparently), or his first encounter with Diego Maradona. He has this unique ability to make light of anything. Even when sharing the tragic, poignant memories, such as when his friend’s younger brother was killed in a car accident, he recounts the sad tale by saying, “I still owe his mum a kettle”. That’s Gazza.
This is about the man’s artistry on the pitch, which is what it should be. There will be a certain generation out there of young adults who will really appreciate this feature, because they know Gazza for being a frail alcoholic who once claimed to have known Raoul Moat. But do they know much about his career? Isn’t that what we should be celebrating? The counter-argument that this is a missed opportunity to really get into the man off the pitch is certainly a fair one – but maybe that’s just for someone else to do.
Of course the alcohol addiction is touched upon, and alluded to in several instances, but it’s not digressed into substantially. But it doesn’t need to be, we can gather and learn enough from his life experiences and vulnerable demeanour to comprehend what led him down such a destructive path. Meanwhile, the press and paparazzi are painted in a truly reprehensible light. After this and Asif Kapadia’s latest documentary about Amy Winehouse, it becomes glaringly obvious just how pivotal a role the press have played in the downfall of these remarkable, fragile talents. They aren’t the sole perpetrator, of course, but a factor nonetheless.
Meanwhile, as a piece of documentary filmmaking, there is a lot to be desired. Following a somewhat conventional structure and presented as your archetypal, talking-head feature, Preston needs to have more faith in her material and the conversations she’s having. The audience laugh when it’s funny, and the audience will be moved when this becomes upsetting. The persistent implementation of mood music to match the anecdote at hand, combined with the slow motion shots of their faces when wiping away a tear, or laughing, is all too contrived and emotionally manipulative.
That being said, Preston must be commended highly for making such a tender feature, studying the highs and lows, but revelling predominantly in the former. Paul Gascoigne claims that he felt most at home on the pitch with a ball at his feet – so why not make a movie that Gazza himself can sit down and enjoy? Because let’s face it, not many documentarians would grant him that. But why not give something back to a man who has given us so, so much.