Apologies in advance to you film critics out there. This is certainly a bit outside of our wheelhouse.
It's going to be quite a year in the world of LSU films. Ole War Skule is getting great early reviews (it will be reviewed in this space soon) and there are even rumors that the baseball program is being considered for a spring "ESPN - SEC Storied" episode. First though, I'm going to talk about the film in this group that we heard about first nearly two years ago, one that's been in the making for a long time: Man in the Glass: The Dale Brown Story
I am a big fan of ESPN's 30 for 30 series that has been running for the last few years and it definitely raised the bar for what can be done in the realm of the sports documentary. I felt going in that my view of the quality of the film might be tinted somewhat after seeing what can be done with near limitless budgets, award-winning directors, and the ultra-slick production of a Disney operation. Man in the Glass is, after all, an indie film with an indie budget.
It certainly doesn't feel like one though. Man in the Glass checks all the boxes you expect from a good sports doc. There are tons of archival photos and film clips of on-court action, some of which no doubt looks better than when first seen on a live broadcast. There are also great interviews with the man himself and lots of former players, administrators, a who's who of the Baton Rouge sports reporters of the time, and quite possibly the last filmed interview with Brown's long-time friend and mentor, UCLA legend John Wooden. It's even got Lester Earl in it. Hearing Brown and his players detail the excitement, immense struggles, and eventual heartbreak of the '81 and '86 seasons are reason enough alone for the diehard LSU basketball fan to love this movie.
The film also delves into some of the more outrageous off the court incidents of the Brown tenure. Moments like the Wooden-Rupp Honors banquet before Brown's 1st season, the day AD Brodhead bugged his own office to spy on the NCAA, and Brown calling the NCAA to inform them he was about to commit a violation.
Indeed, Brown's constant fight with the NCAA, a matter that would follow the coach through almost his entire LSU career, is a large focus of the story, painting the NCAA as the "Gestapo Bastards" that Brown still refers to them as to this day. Even through my purple and gold tinted glasses, it rings as a bit of a one-sided argument, though the bias is mostly forgiven when it's revealed at the end that the NCAA refused to give interviews on the matter. In today's climate where the NCAA is regarded as a mostly incompetent scapegoat for most of college sports problems, I doubt anyone will mind.
The thing is though, Man in The Glass is so much more than a sports documentary, and it has to be because it's subject is so much more than a basketball coach. The film spends a significant amount of time detailing the work Dale Brown has done and is doing outside the realm of coaching. As Tim Brando puts perfectly in one of the interviews, Brown has a lot of "projects" that he has a hand in all over the country, and he works them tirelessly until his goals are accomplished (like his work for the Native American community that I had never even heard of until seeing the film). The film is also interspersed with moments from Brown's early life in North Dakota and his struggles growing up with his abandoned mother in the Depression.
If the film has a goal, it's to make you appreciate Dale Brown the coach as well as Dale Brown the man. It's something that hardly needs to be done for LSU fans in this era after the Lester Earl confession, but that I believe would happen to an outsider or non-sports fan who sees the film. If you are a diehard LSU basketball fan, you'd probably buy the film just on principle, but for the casual LSU basketball fan or the staunch football only fan, the film is still very worthy of the purchase.
Man in the Glass: The Dale Brown Story is available on DVD and digital download from the film's website and will be appearing in the New Orleans Film Festival this weekend. Full Disclosure: I paid full price for the digital download of the film and the film makers have not sent us anything about the film, other than letting us know it was available for purchase.