Authenticity and Personal Experience (2006)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on September 5, 2006 @

I booed Santa Claus.

Well, I didn't actually boo Santa, but I was there in spirit. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, and no matter where he or she goes, a Philadelphian is always a Philadelphian.

People are shocked when they hear that Philadelphia fans booed Santa, but of course, as always, they don't know the real story.

The real story is that Philadelphia fans didn't boo the spirit of Santa; they booed what had been done to it.

What they booed that day in 1968 was that the costume of Santa had been given to a 19-year old drunk. The man who was supposed to be Santa didn't show up, and so Santa was substituted for and besmirched by a teenager in his cups.

Of course, the Philly fans booed.

Anyone with any sense of propriety would boo this callow Claus.

Then again we might vote him president.

This is my introduction to the topic of writing about something with which one has a personal connection -- in my case, the movie Invincible.

It is a fallacy to say one shouldn't go to a movie with preconceptions; anybody who has experience and knowledge has preconceptions. A good critic isn't objective; one can only hope he or she is fair.

The fact that the San Diego Union Tribune's David Elliott was born in Texas effects his sensibility. I think one of the reasons he rated Open Range much higher than I did was his Texas roots.

Does the fact that Roger Ebert is married to an African-American lawyer influence his reviews? This is not pejorative, but of course, it does. Ebert picked Eve's Bayou as the best film of 1997.

Did the fact that I was a teacher and stood up on the desk effect my evaluation of Dead Poet's Society? You bet.

Personal paraphrenalia can be a liability, but it also can be a great asset. It provides greater context.

Invincible is the story of Vince Papale, who was an actual figure -- a part-time bartender who went to a tryout, survived training camp, made the Eagles team, and became a Philadelphia legend.

When I came to Invincible, I came brimming with personal context.

At Villanova University outside Philadelphia, where I attended college, Jim Murray was one of my two best friends. (And you thought I had no friends.) Eons later he still is.

A Villanova tidbit in Invincible is that the opening song "I've Got a Name" is by Jim Croce, who also went to Villanova.

In 1974 Jim Murray became general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, and he was the one who hired Coach Dick Vermeil -- in Invincible portrayed by Greg Kinnear.

Unfortunately Jim Murray is not a character in Invincible. He deserves a movie all his own.

In my novella Palestra (written under the pseudonym S. D. Franklin), I fictionalized Jim's and owner Leonard Tose's exploits -- Tose would have been a tragic hero if he weren't so sloppy.

Jim adamantly requested I not publish the book until after his death. If I had deferred to his anxious request, the manuscript would still lay unpublished.

But Jim had nothing to worry about; Palestra is published, but unread.

Another personal element for me in Invincible -- that probably means nothing to most viewers outside Philadelphia -- is the name Steve Van Buren. That name is mentioned at least five times in the dialogue in Invincible.

It is a forgotten name remembered.

In Invincible, Vince Papale's father says about Steve Van Buren's winning touchdown against the Chicago Cardinals in the 1948 Championship game, "That touchdown got me through 30 years in the factory."

The only picture I have of me with a Philadelphia athlete is the one of my wife Judy and me with Steve Van Buren, in 1994 at deserted Veterans Stadium, taken by Jim Murray.

I met Bucko Killroy with my dad, but the photo is with Steve Van Buren -- and I have his rookie card.

With all of this back story, I went to Invincible.

The positives of Invincible are that it tells a good story, has a fine cast, and creates the ambience of 1970s South Philly.

Mark Wahlberg is ideal for the role of the part-time bartender who becomes an Eagle's warrior.

The director is first-timer Ericson Cole, who is a cinematographer so his sepia images of South Philly are evocative.

The negatives of Invincible are patented. It has a shallow script by a novice writer, who falls back on oh-so-predictable sentimentality.

In 1976 -- the year Papale became an Eagle -- Rocky, with its fictional South Philly blue-collar hero, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It obviously influences Invincible -- not always to the good.

Invincible is mythic, but it runs away from authenticity. One can tolerate some changes. Papale was from the suburbs, not South Philly, and he actually played for the World Football League before his fabled tryout with the Eagles. One can rationalize these changes.

But the makers of Invincible lack Vince Papale's backbone. They add a hokey scene of Vince's playing football in the mud -- of course -- with his buddies before a big game.

And, most contrived, they distort Papale's big play into a touchdown, when he never ever scored one for the Eagles. It's inauthentic.

Invincible is entertaining, but it is not as good a movie as it should be. My critical acumen plus my Philly instincts inform me of that.

In Philly, we cheer Vince Papale, but we boo inauthentic Santas.

© 2000-2024 Tony Macklin