Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos

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Review #217 of 365
Film: Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos [PG-13] 97 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $8.00
Where Viewed: Landmark Chez Artiste, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 16 August 2006
Time: 9:40 p.m.

Junior Walker and The All Stars - Once In a Lifetime

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
Let's begin today with a trivia question. I am going to give you 74 team names and their cities, and you tell me what major league sport they represented. Ok? Here goes. Atlanta Apollos, Atlanta Chiefs, Baltimore Bays, Baltimore Comets, Boston Beacons, Boston Minutemen, Boston Rovers, Calgary Boomers, California Surf, Chicago Mustangs, Chicago Spurs, Chicago Sting, Cleveland Stokers, Colorado Caribous, Connecticut Bicentennials, Dallas Tornado, Denver Dynamos, Detroit Cougars, Detroit Express, Edmonton Drillers, Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, Golden Bay Earthquakes, Hartford Bicentennials, Houston Hurricane, Houston Stars, Jacksonville Tea Men, Kansas City Spurs, Las Vegas Quicksilver, Los Angeles Aztecs, Los Angeles Toros, Los Angeles Wolves, Memphis Rogues, Miami Gatos, Miami Toros, Minnesota Kicks, Minnesota Strikers, Montreal Manic, Montreal Olympique, New England Tea Men, New York Cosmos, New York Generals, New York Skyliners, Oakland Clippers, Oakland Stompers, Philadelphia Atoms, Philadelphia Fury, Philadelphia Spartans, Pittsburgh Phantoms, Portland Timbers, Rochester Lancers, San Antonio Thunder, San Diego Jaws, San Diego Sockers, San Diego Toros, San Francisco Gales, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, St. Louis Stars, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Team America, Team Hawaii, Toronto Blizzard, Toronto City, Toronto Falcons, Toronto Metros, Toronto Metros-Croatia, Tulsa Roughnecks, Vancouver Canadians, Vancouver Royals, Vancouver Whitecaps, Washington Darts, Washington Diplomats, and Washington Whips. Think about it. There are plenty of clues. Well, if you said the North American Soccer League (historical homepage) you would be correct. Even so, there are going to be quite a few people reading this who think (a) "There was professional soccer in the USA before Major League Soccer?", and still many that say(b) "There is Major League Soccer in the USA?". Poor soccer. Despite all the efforts of so many people, chief among them Warner Communications CEO, Steve Ross, professional soccer in the USA remains under appreciated. Steve Ross is responsible for two major things in the history of professional soccer in the USA: (1) the New York Cosmos and (2) helping to get the World Cup to the USA which finally happened in 1994 and which FIFA then required the USA to form the MLS (Major League Soccer) which was founded and began play in 1996 with ten teams: Eastern Conference (Columbus Crew, D.C. United, New England Revolution, NY/NJ MetroStars, and Tampa Bay Mutiny), and Western Conference (Colorado Rapids, Dallas Burn, Kansas City Wiz, Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Clash). FYI, the MLS is now 10 years old with twelve teams: Club Deportivo Chivas, Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Los Angeles Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, D.C. United, Kansas City Wizards, New York Red Bull, and New England Revolution expanding into Toronto next year with Toronto FC. Even so, the MLS is still the most unrecognized major sports league in the USA. Trying to figure out exactly why this is when the game is considered by many to be the most popular in the rest of the world is not easy. Many have tried. Among those would be author Gavin Newsham who chronicled the rise and fall of the NASL in his book, Once in a Lifetime, which focused on the Steve Ross-owned New York Cosmos. Paul Crowder and John Dower decided to make the story into a documentary film called, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos. Unlike quite a few of the documentaries released this year, Once in a Lifetime, takes a pretty traditional documentary approach. There are some relatively dry interviews interspersed with historical footage of the Cosmos playing, the Cosmos players, all with historical voiceovers provided by Matt Dillon. Unfortunately, the washed out effect of the old footage and the need to rely on stock photos of Steve Ross who passed away in 1992, give the film a very 1970s look and feel. Historically accurate, perhaps, but difficult to watch as a major motion picture in 2006. Meanwhile, with no disrespect to the filmmakers and ESPN for footing a lot of the bill to make the film, the film is not very likely to appeal to people outside those who are interested in professional soccer in the USA, which, we've already established isn't a very large percentage of the population. Meanwhile, in evaluating the documentary, one has to ask if the subject is really that interesting in general. Well, I think it could have been more interesting, but not without the directors taking a less gentlemanly approach.

"…appropriate for first year MBAs studying the financial models for success and failures than one for soccer fans…"
The directors really stuck to creating an historical record. In the process they uncover bad blood all over the place: Pelé is not that thrilled with the acquisition of Italian bad boy, Giorgio Chinaglia. Lots of people seem to think that Giorgio Chinaglia was controlling Steve Ross. There's some interesting stuff alluded to between them and, at the very least, some hero worship issues on the part of Mr. Ross who basically fired the original coach and hired Giorgio Chinaglia's candidate at Giorgio Chinaglia's request. Meanwhile, it really was Pelé's commitment to the team and 3-year contract that put the Cosmos on the map and brought the people to NASL games all over the country. Meanwhile, there was also obvious tension between various Warner Comm. Execs and members of the team and coaching staff. Had the directors chosen to hold people more to task on these issues, they would have gotten a more explosive and interesting film. It would have cost them some points in good behavior and ethics, perhaps. I would have probably done the same, but realized in so doing, that the film was going to have even less mass appeal in today's times of back-biting reality shows. In many ways, the film moves into a realm where it becomes more appropriate for first year MBAs studying the financial models for success and failures than one for soccer fans, for it is pretty easy to see why the league ultimately collapsed. So, while the film is washed out 70s, it is eventually the story that really fails to captivate. I'm not sure what it says that Giorgio Chinaglia was all over this film, while Pelé failed to comment.

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Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos
Review-lite [150-word cap]

Let's begin today with trivia. Here are some team names. Tell me what major league sport they represented. Apollos, Boomers, Cosmos, Dynamos, Gatos, Quicksilver, Surf, Sting, and Tornados. Well, if you said the North American Soccer League, then you deserve to take a bow. Decades before the MLS, there was the NASL. And king among the teams was the New York Cosmos created and owned by Steve Ross, CEO of Warner Communications. Avoiding the obvious bad blood among the characters involved in the team's meteoric rise and then colossal demise, Paul Crowder and John Dower made the story into an historical documentary film called, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos. Matt Dillon provides voiceovers for this very washed out film which eventually proves to be more appropriate for first year MBAs studying the financial models for success and failures than one for Cosmos fans.

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