‘Sweethearts of the Gridiron’ rich with character

‘Sweethearts of the Gridiron’ rich with character

February 22
17:26 2015

Dalton LaFerney / Views & Digital Editor

“Sweethearts of the Gridiron” was among the best films screened at Thin Line Fest. Almost a full house sat in the Campus Theater to attend the 4 p.m. screening Saturday, many of whom were from Kilgore, Texas, the community home to the Kilgore College Rangerettes, the subject of the documentary. While I did see many open seats Saturday, there was even an additional showing Sunday to compensate for the overflow and meet the demands of festival attendees.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Rangerettes, you should watch “Sweethearts.” Director and UNT alumnus Chip Hale shaped this project into a piece generations of East Texans will cherish. Throughout the screening, I heard sniffles mixed with happy laughs — expected considering many of the audience were emotionally involved with those featured in the film. Nonetheless, the documentarians chose genuine subjects (Rangerettes, past and present) to narrate this sweet film to create an inviting sense of family while informing the audience on the long, almost sacred legacy this program has embraced.

I grew up in East Texas, about five minutes outside of Kilgore. It’s an old oil town no where near the size of Denton, with crumbly roads (no where near the poor condition of Denton’s, I add prejudicially). “Sweethearts” got it right in explaining the town, and interviewed the right people to coat the documentary in the East Texas, country flair the region so noticeably boasts.

The tone is tempered by the kind folks (yes, folks) of Kilgore, framing the focus of the documentary, which of course are the beautiful ladies of the Rangerette drill team. It begins by explaining the magnitude of the organization, dating back to the fall of 1940, when Gussie Nell Davis and the first Rangerette line revolutionized the way football halftime shows are done in Texas — with style and high kicks.

By entering the documentary from the historical perspective, the audience is able to understand fully why the main story is important, which is the week of Rangerette tryouts and the stories of several women working hard to make the line. There is no overemphasize of emotion, because the emotion comes pouring out of the interviews with the women who’ve sacrificed summers and vacation time to spend hours perfecting their crafts to achieve a dream they so adoringly behold.

Many of the cutaway interviews, however, are compiled in such a way that they appear redundant contextually. But I don’t hold that against the filmmakers, because there are thousands of people they could have interviewed for this piece, and it is doubtful any of those subjects could have provided a dialogue as effect as this cast.

The timeline of the film is that of the week of tryouts, when hopefuls are placed through the gauntlet, facing hours of intense criticism from coaches, managers, veterans and the legacy of those who came before them. These girls put themselves in the most stressful of situations in their pursuits — it’s the feeling we get when we watch a good sports film. We can see the want, the motivation in the eyes of the athlete. Hall makes it a point to catch the tears and the little moments of sheer panic or internal regret when they screw up a routine or misunderstand a coach. Those moments are what cinema is for — those downright human instances of error and remorse. The candid tone of the film is effective, especially considering the candidness of almost all East Texans. Most are unapologetic in nature, and the film gleams with that sorry-not-sorry humor and personality.

I hope my criticism is not too influenced by the audience’s approval of the film (or my personal connection), for “Sweethearts” could appear to many like a happy-go-lucky yearbook glimpse into a program that only regards itself as important and needed. However, ego overinflation is countered by interview subjects such as Gov. Greg Abbott, a cultural authority in this tense, who supports the secondary premise of the documentary that the values associated, and internally developed by, the Kilgore College Rangerettes are woven into the fabric of Texas society and culture.

The flow and tempo of the documentary itself effectively takes hours of sentimental quotes and moments of enthusiasm to create a finished product from which everyday people can enjoy and be enlightened in 90 minutes.

The intensity and pressure on these women come hurling toward the audience, and are recognizable to many in unrelated scenarios. One scene in particular comes to mind. During the final hours of tryouts, one group of hopefuls is called back to the floor to redo a routine, creating a heart stopping moment for several of the women, captured brilliantly by the filmmakers. That is to say most of the scenes had the proper buildup and climax you want in a documentary such as this.

The story itself is done well, but some of the shots were questionable. Some of the camera angles were wobbly and therefore unprofessional. One scene actually followed a character as she was walking down a hallway, into her bedroom, bending down to retrieve something. The camera followed her face all the way down, rising back up with her to create a dizzy and unneeded sequence.

There were amateurish moments of poor editing throughout the film, however not nearly noticeable for the average viewer to note, but unprofessional enough to catch the eye of the average film critic. Dark words on screen later in the documentary got lost in the greenery of East Texas pine trees, and audio levels in some scenes (such as the introduction) were too loud, creating melodrama and causing me to frown.

Hall and the other producers met the standards of documentaries before them. It spotlit people, embodied real emotion and featured an organization and its impact on Texas.

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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