HAS ANYONE CHECKED Mark Jenkins for a pulse lately? I appreciate his contrarian criticism as much as the next guy. Probably much more than the next guy, come to think of it. Jenkins is clearly not in need of a brain, but his review of Hoop Dreams (Film, 11/4) seems to have cemented his role as Washington City Paper‘s resident Tin Man. His heartless supercynicism seems to have completely impaired his ability to judge anything that would be appealing or of interest to more than half-a-dozen people. Perhaps if Hoop Dreams had been narrated in Polish with subtitles or had an obscure opera score, Jenkins would have found something redeeming. Instead, he complains that the movie takes three hours to make the point that most high-school stars don’t make it to the NBA.
In what can only be described as an airball of a review, Jenkins seems to have completely missed what makes Hoop Dreams so captivating. This is a documentary about America, and basketball is only a part of the story. It is a film filled with uncomfortable images of racism, poverty, greed, despair, and anger. It also holds out hope and promise and the possibility of redemption. Not the redemption offered by victories or the often empty promise of the American dream. What is offered here is an acknowledgement of our shared humanity, which has great sympathy for our failures and questions our ideas of success. All of this is accomplished without the heavy-handedness and preaching that are the pitfalls of many documentaries. The subjects speak for themselves and the results are brutally honest, disturbing, funny, depressing, and uplifting all at once. I suppose that because Jenkins did not fully trash Hoop Dreams the readers are supposed to realize that the movie might be worth attending. But praise by faint damnation is a code only the most ardent Jenkins reader could possibly decipher. Hoop Dreams is a remarkable accomplishment which Jenkins would do well to revisit.
Joe Heim, Dupont Circle