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Hoop Dreams A, A

US/1994/Color/Fullscreen 1.33/Stereo Surround/171 Minutes/Directed by Steve James/Fine Line/42 Chaps/2 discs/CLV/

     Hoop Dreams is that rare film which breaks loose from any preconceived boundaries dictated by genre considerations. The entertaining and intensely dramatic narrative that evolves in this chronicle of dreams, some rainbow colored, some broken crystal shards still shimmering with reminders of past hope, effortlessly scales the mountain of grand filmmaking. Following two young black basketball prospects from the school yards of their ghetto neighborhoods to the parquet floors of high school basketball, this documentary is infused with the raw power of truth yet maintains the pace and tightly crafted feeling of a beautifully written work of fiction.

     Though the running time of almost three hours might suggest an endlessly long and uncomfortable evening's viewing, Hoop Dreams plays as swiftly as a basketball fast break, pulsing with the beat of the dribbling ball and the blood life of undying hope.  Maintaining the element of surprise throughout this four year story, director Steve James' film manages to escape falling into any cliché ridden traps. Whether focusing on high school basketball results or the evolving drama of the Agee and Gates families, Hoop Dreams never grooves into the patterns of predictability. By judiciously alternating the sequence of events in the film between the family life of William Gates or Arthur Agee, the two wonderful central figures of this American saga, with their exploits on the basketball courts or in high school class rooms, James creates a dynamic, swiftly moving pace.              Many beautiful and emotionally moving moments are captured by filmmaker James in this heart felt film. I found myself so involved in the basketball game interludes that my stomach knotted in excitement as the ball arched toward the basket in a desperate final flight to glory before the game's end.  At the end of Hoop Dreams, Arthur Agee looks back over the years: "When I was young and I was little, that's all I used to think about, the NBA. If I set my mind, I can go.... But if I don't, I ain't gonna be no drug dealer, come back, and you know, stick up gas stations...probably go into comedian or architecture, something like that." A pensive William Gates reflects: "Four years ago that's all I used to dream about, was playing in the NBA. I don't really dream about it like that anymore. Even though I love playing basketball, I want to do other things with my life too. If I had to stop playing basketball right now, I think I'd still be happy, I think I would. That's why when somebody say, `When you get to the NBA don't forget about me' and all that stuff, I should say to them, 'Well if I don't make it let you don't forget about me.'"  With post filming notes briefly touching on their college experiences scrolling on the screen, I found myself hoping that William Gates and Arthur Agee would reach their rainbow and carry a portion of it throughout their lives.

     The straightforward and clean filming has been perfectly captured on this laser disc. The sound track is excellent and its impact clearly adds to the power of this documentary drama. Hoop Dreams is absolutely not to be missed.