Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Losing LeBron (November 8 at 6 p.m. at the Ohio Independent Film Festival at Atlas Lakeshore Cinemas)

[LOSING LEBRON screens Friday November 8th at 6:00 pm at the Ohio Independent Film Festival at Atlas Lakeshore Cinemas.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

You'll be hearing a lot this month about the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Typically the local-new-anchor clich‚ of `where were you when you heard the news?' In 1963, I myself was under a month old, so my memories are indistinct. Most likely I was in my crib, busy filling out resumes and job applications at the time. Even so, I was too late. All the jobs were already taken, nobody was hiring. At least that's the line I've been fed ever since.

But I do remember where I was when I heard LeBron James was leaving Cleveland, oh yeah. After nearly 50 years of my own rejection and futility in trying to find gainful, full-time employment in this area, I sure do remember.

July, 2010. It was a Thursday. I had a freelance movie-review assignment at South Park Mall to see a preview of the disappointing Disney live-action THE SORCEROR'S APPRENTICE. It was actually one of my last movie-review gigs for that particular Cleveland alt-weekly publication, as they were cutting back on all the freelancers. And because I had to take time off my low-paying, non-writing, dead-end-part-time wages job (only the Union members got to work full time, for decent pay - and I was told I would never get into the Union), I was actually losing money, making appreciably less than I usually did on a Thursday second shift. Just to have a night out and get my name in print a little bit. Good for the resume, right?

THE SORCEROR'S APPRENTICE sucked. The domestic atmosphere was ugly all the way to Strongsville and all the way back. When I returned to the underwater home whose mortgage had just gotten jacked up by Chase Bank (who would refuse to refinance), I got the news that LeBron James had made his "Decision" on nationwide television, and he was going far, far away, to Miami.

I think I applauded. Maybe I cheered. Despite all the hopeful rumors to the contrary, the number one athletic superstar in world had chosen not to stay here with the Cavaliers. LeBron had escaped Cleveland. For my part, as a not particularly invested fan, I still had to think that the worldwide humiliation Cleveland received was a compensation for all that I had gone through while trying to find a job, and a fulfilling life on the North Coast.

He was like my revenge that night. My best wishes still go with LeBron.  

So I may or may not be the ideal audience for LOSING LEBRON, a slick short-feature documentary about the effect "The Decision" had locally. Filmmakers Nicole Prowell Hart and Allyson Sherlock never speak to King James himself, but rather a cross-section of Clevelanders about the whole fiasco, in context of Cleveland's enduring history of howling sports defeats ("the Catch," "the Drive," "the Fumble" etc. are briefly recounted) and against the background of the region's unending image problems and economic blight.

Chief among the interviewees: Esquire writer Scott Raab, who would come to pen an entire book The Whore of Akron, about the LeBron snub. I have yet to read Raab's book (perhaps I do not want it to affect the tone of my own book LEBRON JAMES IS AWESOME!!!), but Mr. Raab has obviously put much thought into the LeBron departure, pro and con, and how it shook Cleveland, ground zero.

Les Levine confirms what I had previously heard mainly as lore, that Cleveland's rise as a national joke was helped along in the 1960s by Cleveland-born Hollywood gagwriters who used the city as a punchline in routines by Johnny Carson and others (I could name one comic cited as particularly guilty, but I'll keep that intel to myself). Though intended at a sort of backhanded fond tribute, Cleveland jokes instead corroded the rep of this once-mighty manufacturing city. Meanwhile the jobs left (tell me about it), business cut back/closed/hired anyone but Charles Cassady. The river burned, Mayor Perk accidentally set himself on fire. Potholes multiplied. Failure fed on itself, and the hapless performances of our sports stars went along with post-industrial decline and an exodus of population for greener pastures.

Yes, LOSING LEBRON does rerun, in its entirety, Mike Polk's YouTube hit Cleveland "Tourism Video," also excerpted in Michael Moore's CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY. In his interview Polk claims to be a proud Clevelander, but agrees that there aren't many jobs here (tell me about it) and says that if he must, he'll leave too. Plenty of others did, and Scott Raab, much as he has felt Cleveland's pain, also had to flee this career desert in order to carve out a decent livelihood.

It is mostly around the margins that one senses that the city of Akron - LeBron's real 'hood, let's face it - harbors no resentment against him, at least nothing near what Clevelanders do. It is acknowledged that black folks are far less angry at James than the whites. And the filmmakers follow a father-son combo, Tyrone and Zach Shavers, just a couple of ordinary brothers trying to make it in Cleveland's economic doldrums. Ty works a fruitless series of temp-agency assignments, while Zach listlessly takes Jobs Corps classes and says he had to hang with a street gang for his own safety. Neither of them blame LeBron for bolting. They'd like to leave themselves...maybe for Chicago, maybe for Atlanta. 

And we even hear from the grateful local Boys and Girls Club that got a largesse of charity funds from the ad revenue generated by "The Decision" TV show, just as LeBron said he intended. Still, LOSING LEBRON won't change many minds made up about LeBron James, I think. We all know this story and how it turns out. I couldn't help but compare-contrast it with Andrew Muscato's BRANCA'S PITCH, a 2013 doc about the notorious play that lost the 1951 World Series for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and how a historical baseball injustice may have been perpetuated ever since. BRANCA'S PITCH is the proverbial game-changer; LOSING LEBRON will just do an all-pro job of capturing Cleveland's sorrow and the pity for posterity and out-of-town viewers too distant scornful to relate to the likes of us (and Mike Polk will get a few more gigs, you bet. Probably ones I applied for).

One certainly hopes this film will be around for future retrospective on forthcoming Cleveland sports-and-cultural disasters of the 21st century. Like when they finally decide that the Cleveland "Indians" is a racist team name. So they change it to the Cleveland Ragheads or the Cleveland Wogs or the Cleveland Dirty Stinking Rotten Japs. I don't even know how that will come about. Only that it probably will.

It's Cleveland, after all. Had Ariel Castro not hung himself, I would not have been surprised if he would have gotten transferred to a sun-belt maximum-security prison in another state. For the superior climate and opportunities. 
Goodness, I am amusing. The fact that LOSING LEBRON is fatally flawed by not interviewing me is mitigated by the fact that the date the OIFF is showing it happens to fall portentously enough on my birthday. Consider it my gift to you, the community. Fair return for all those job turndowns, bad relationships and major depression. (23 out of 4 stars. I just had to put another `23' in there)

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