Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Video experiences


I spent the last six months accumulating video gear of all sorts, and learning about pro-level cinematography, and filmmaking in general, in all their aspects. Not much changed in my practical ability for better video work however... a filmmaker is not something you become overnight. It takes practice, persistence, plenty of creative thinking, and of course lots of skill and experience. For amateur videographers like myself, one needs to do everything on his/her own. Screen writing, directing, cinematography (staging, lighting, shooting), color correction and style-grading, non-linear editing, sound/music. Where in professional productions there are a few dozen up to thousands of specialised workers employed for many months or even years, a simple amateur videographer needs to put on all sorts of trick hats and do same tasks (far smaller in scope, though) on his/her own. One learns a lot by reading specialized blogs and watching instructional and other films by pro's and gifted amateurs on Youtube and Vimeo. It's remarkable, knowing what it takes in terms of equipment, technical knowledge, skill, creativity, and post-production work, to watch what young filmmakers can achieve in practice. When did they learn to do all this, you may wonder. Eternal sceptics might claim that making a motion picture is quite simple, and anybody can do it. I think not. During many years I have performed with some success a variety of 'artistic' endeavours in my life like painting and drawing, stills photography, digital and film (I've got almost 30K pictures on my Flickr channel), but, despite my recent acquired knowledge and equipment in filmmaking, I can definitely state that I'll never be any near to most of these kids, who produce and direct successfully entire feature films at barely half my age...

I initially thought of shooting shorts, but even that requires seasoned skills. So, I basically resorted to spending leisure time by shooting simple scenes of the 'miracles' of nature... flowers, animals and landscapes. I am obsessed with technical picture quality in terms of colour and sharpness, but video compression may kill all that if you don't pay the necessary attention. With professional gear, a captured signal might still be near-perfect as output by the sensor, but as recorders and NLE software use their own codecs, quality might easily be damaged during signal storage, post processing, and delivery. Furthermore, a technically almost perfect video file, encoded in a high quality delivery codec, can and will be further degraded if uploaded to Youtube or Vimeo, as both streaming services need to recode those files with their own proprietary codecs for obvious streaming optimisation reasons. In analog videography we used to undergo huge quality loss from one copy generation to the next. In digital accordingly, we have to be quite careful and knowledgeable about the type of compression our codecs will apply in order to avoid similar degrees of quality damage as in analog.

Shooting video is like shooting stills. Sort of. Composition, lighting, depth of field, ISO, aperture and exposure times, lenses used, are all quite the same. Of course, there are quite a few filmmaking specific elements that have little to do with stills photography. Examples include the frame rates (fps), and the 'rule' that shutter speeds (exposure times) 'have to be' twice the fps to guarantee fluent movement of objects and persons in the video shots. Also camera movement during individual shots is one major filmmaking factor, as viewers are emotionally 'manipulated' by cinematographers by the way the latter hold and move the camera while shooting, as well as the camera angles used. Types of lenses, apertures used and focal distances, camera movement and points of view (angles), along with edit 'cuts' and time-length between cuts are some of the most critical cinematographic tools used to trigger viewer emotion during story telling. Some of those tools hold even true for stills shooting. Stills do tell stories as well, you see. Like painting and all man-made 'artificial' imaging. It's all about the story. Only that filmmaking is the most explicit and dominant among all known imaging art forms in the process of visual storytelling.

The particular clip I embedded in this post above is something I shot and edited yesterday, during the usual rainy afternoon, like so many we've seen this August in Belgium. My compatriots back in the fatherland are heavily sweating, as I type this, under 30+ Celsius temperatures, whereas I have to wear a sweater to get thru the day. Uunfortunately, this year autumn started in Belgium at the end of July.

I haven't tried any special camera movements this time, other than a couple focus tracks, and it was all done handheld, with only a few shots slightly stabilised after the facts, in post. To preserve maximum resolution and sharpness quality I avoided crops and Kern Burn effects in post as well. I used a brand new Lumix GH4 V1.0 to capture and output a clean HDMI 1080p 4.2.2. 10 bit signal and recorded it in ProRes HQ on an Atomos Ninja Blade. I used two different lenses, the 14-140 mm that came with the Lumix and a Canon 24-105 mm with an MFT adaptor. With the Canon lens, lacking aperture setting ability, I should have used ND filters too, but I didn't. Was to lazy to go back to my room and fetch them, as the shooting took place two floors below, in my backyard. Thank God it was quite dark outside and lowering the ISO solved my problem. Shooting at 24 fps meant I had to keep the shutter speed at 50, and get on with it. The GH4 picture style I used was the CinelikeD, without any further parameter adjustments (as many experts suggest to lower further in order to yield flat LOG-like footage for color correction and grading purposes in post).

The ProRes footage captured by the Blade was readily usable in FCP without further transcoding since Apple uses ProRes as its standard format for post processing. What I was particularly awed by though, were the fine-tuning luma and chroma adjustments made possible in post. All this due to the extra 2 bits of chroma subsampling that the Blade gave me. Most experts argue about the elimination of banding in higher subsampling bit-rates, but my personal experience points more to the ability to implement subtle color and tonality changes with more bits than the traditional 8 bit encoding of commercial VDSLRs. In other words, the extra subsampling bits help colourists in the first place, before all the rest. The final video file that I watched on a FHD TV, and not the YT encoded stream you are watching here, practically convinced me to let go for the time being the 4K workflow that I initially bought the GH4 for, and continue shooting 1080p at 4.2.2.-10 bit instead, until I found a way to get a similar ProRes encoding at 4K / 10bits minimum. Does this sound a bit like the upcoming Atomos Shogun? Am I looking for more excuses? I might...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dedicated to Film Critics.

Their job is to watch early previews of new movie releases and tell us, the audience, how they felt about a given film, and whether it would be worth spending our precious money and time on it at all!

All I can recall from most professional critics’s reviews that I read is mostly a long summary of the movie story/plot, without revealing the «who dunnit» of course, then its comparison to some of the universally accepted ‘best’ movies in the genre (often doing this to boast about the depth of their own cinema knowledge, and amplify the weight of their opinion), and finally loathing or loving what they saw. Often the loathing is overly critical, cynical and far too unfairly negative. We are then supposed to simply and unequivocally trust their opinion. Also, a fact well known, it is practically a few select leading critics, whose opinion is universally respected for all sorts of reasons, who set the primary trend on a given new movie, and most of the remaining critics will continue to pompously echo the few experts’ «loathing or loving», just like a herd of «His Master’s Voice» doggies... The fact that far too often films loathed by critics became huge box-office success tells a lot about critics too.

Compare this with product reviews we see in YouTube. A world of difference. We see and hear almost everything concerning a given product, even experience its unboxing. We won’t have to see or even feel it ‘in real’ anymore. We could easily trust our
acquired knowledge obtained during these online reviews, as most reviewers actually test them products right in front of our eyes. If we feel that certain aspects are not covered sufficiently, we dig further until we find someone to provide satisfactory answers to all our remaining questions. By the time we have purchased and received the product, it’s like we already used it for ages.

Not with movie reviews, though. With most of them it seems like someone asked a few blind men to describe an elephant by simply touching parts of its body. Some feel soft, some wet, hairy, hard, huge, especially huge. Opinions are like a-holes they say: everybody's got one... Descriptions of the beast will be all over the map. Likewise, most professional critics appear too ‘blind’ for the job, as they are often much too incapable of seeing through the movie and grasping the genuine
message of the movie's Director. This is why most successful moviemakers despise and are dreadful of critics for their poorly informed, partial, opinionated and unfair coverage of the formers' work. In a spirit of justified avenge, moviemakers will then claim that most critics are in themselves failed moviemakers. However, jokingly, they could still be ‘acceptable’ but only as critics, it is claimed. Like, bad wine can still make excellent quality vinegar !

Movie making is an art form that is extremely complicated and expensive to execute properly. Distinguished from most other art forms, it is being pursued by large groups of people working together on the movie project, often with opposing and contradictory philosophies, ideologies, preferences, and talents. Colours and tastes, like the French say... Movies will have then to be completed within tough constraints of time and budgets, and after formal launch, they need to become genuinely popular among audiences
in order to 'cover' their incurred expenses and turn out some profit. In each and every movie, most of the ‘public’ figures involved, actors, directors, cinematographers, music composers, producers, studios, with each and every single new movie project, they all take a tremendous personal risk concerning their future survival in the industry. And that's despite how glorious their ‘past’ work has already proven to be. Unfortunately, movie failures remain strong in audiences’ and critics’ memory. In each and every new project the leading and visible contributors (especially directors and performing actors) risk to become unemployable for the rest of their careers. Never forget that... Movie making is as risky as gambling... maybe riskier! It can make or break the moviemaker!

First and foremost, movie making is about manipulating audiences and carrying them along a story telling adventure, in which the movie Director, leading/managing each and every member in his/her crew, will tell the audience what he/she wants them to hear, and convince them about his/her own truth of reality... the latter being the "movie story". The key words here, again, are the combined conscious/unconscious audience manipulation. Conscious for moviemakers, unconscious for audiences. Audiences do indeed want to get fooled by watching a movie, and experience the sense that even for the couple hours of its duration they'll live magic like in a dream. Or a nightmare...

Audience manipulation is a difficult feat to achieve properly. The tools and techniques moviemakers use to achieve their goals are technically complex and come in multiple shapes and colours:

a. The script and storyboards. The narrative story a Director wants to tell audiences and how he/she plans to do it with pictures.

b. Actors and character roles. How well actors understand and perform inside their character roles and how effective both, characters and performing actors, fit the Director's storytelling approach and overall film goals.

c. The Stage Design during location and studio takes. The movie's post production color grading as well as the appropriate lighting used during takes that will yield the ambiance and atmosphere
aimed for. All objects in a scene. Costume design. Special Effects. CGI. The works. How well will they all support actor performance and story telling? Up to the wee-tiny details that camera lenses can and will see.

d. Movies are made by shooting thousands upon thousands of different photographs (a.k.a. frames) projected at the rate of 24 frames per second in front of a viewer’s eyes. Frames are two dimensional depictions of the three dimensional world (the stage) in which actors perform and story-lines are being deployed.

e. Space and time are being heavily manipulated by movie makers to create the necessary emotional reaction among audiences. Movie watching is more about emotion than it is about logic inference. As Tarkovsky, a genuine artist moviemaker, once suggested: «I want audiences to experience my films, not to understand them.»

f. The selected camera angles used to shoot given scenes are also a critical factor in story telling. Different angles trigger different emotions. The eyes are triggered by and focus upon evolving changes in frames. Things that move or do something. Therefore, aesthetics and composition are important. Camera moves are important too for the same reason, especially with static staging and performances (a sleeping actor, for instance - to be remarked here, Warhol didn’t mind much about this particular rule). Also the covered scope during each and every camera angle is critical. Ranging from long shots to extreme closeups, they all have to be used for a reason. Like someone, whom the 19 year old, now celebrity French Film Director Luc Besson, asked to watch his first ever short, told him: If you have nothing to say, shut the fuck up! Every scene and cut and picture we see parading in front of our eyes has been put there for a reason. For their own specific ‘emotional’ message towards the audience. All of course serving and advancing the same story-telling, remember? The particular point,
exactly where in space the cinematographer decides to depict a ‘change’ occurring is equally critical. Even focal lengths of lenses used, as well as filters attached, add emotional punch in their own implementation of the movie language towards audiences. True story!

g. Sequences of frames are stitched together in what is a.k.a. «the Cut». Many cuts compose a scene. Scenes together built story lines and movie Acts. All of that put together creates The Movie. The very exact frames selected by film editors to cut shots are often the most critical factors used to build audience emotion. Cuts are indeed one, if not the strongest, implementation of movie language! Suspense moments, especially in horror movies, is the best proof of this argument.

h. Last but not least, the sound and music attached to cuts, and their timely positioning in the selected sequence of frames are among the key contributing factors in emotion creation too. Moviemakers know that extremely well. Sound and music are indeed among the strongest triggers of viewer emotions. ‘Graphic’ shots without the right accompanying sound or music lose two thirds of their potential emotional impact. If,
every time you hear Wagner’s «Valkyries», many years after you saw «Apocalypse now», and you still experience in your mind’s eye the horror of napalm firebombs devastating Vietnam forests, and ‘smell’ the odour of burning flesh... this is the living proof of the role of effective soundtracks in engraving into audiences' collective memories unforgettable emotional experiences.

Audiences progressively learn to communicate
passively (ie. being at the receiving end) in the «language» of movies via their cumulative film viewing experience, through their continuous exposure to movies upon movies in the different genres, over years of movie watching. This is Gadamer's point of view too. Audiences learn this language without specific knowledge of its structure and rules. Like I mentioned, the language is formed and expressed by all contributing factors described in points (a) to (h) above. It’s very much like toddlers learn to speak before they can even hold a pencil or learned to read. The learning happens almost unconsciously, a combination of feeling and logical inference, where the feeling becomes the stronger aspect. It’s how biology and evolution works. Nothing we can do about. 

On the other hand, moviemakers learn and use the movie language all too well, its structure and rules. They are all trained in exactly that at Film Schools. Directors, DPs, Film Editors, Producers, Actors, every single one of them.  They learn to 'consciously' manipulate their audience's emotional 'unconscious' and guide them through the storytelling process. However, in the passage of time, and during the last 130 years of movie viewing, audiences have had tremendous watching exposure and have become quite demanding and sophisticated indeed. They have learned what to like and what not. They have become quite difficult to please and convince, for sure... by either critics or moviemakers...

Therefore, descent cinema critics should pay attention to these (not too) humble ideas of mine:

First of all, when a movie critic decides to inform an audience about a film, all and foremost, he/she should understand, once and for all, that their own personal experience and knowledge about cinema subjects is the least relevant aspect of the review as far as audiences reading the reviews are concerned. Critics are not the subject of the review. Nobody is interested in them personally, anyways. The films under review are the real focus! Parallels and comparisons to past ‘films’ in the critics’ Knowledge-Base are not relevant either.


Critics should abandon using obnoxious superlatives and pompous language 'normal' readers happen to come across once in a lifetime, and mostly needing a dictionary to decipher. We don't need that level of intellectual arrogance thrown at our face. We need to understand the article in plain English, not requiring a PhD in literature to grasp its meaning...

Furthermore, we, the audience, know from the start that we are destined to be manipulated by each and every filmmaker, anyways! We may decide to watch the film regardless. We actually want to be manipulated, most of the time. Rather subtly though. The subtler the better! We hate the faking being too transparent, especially in actors' performances, failing to convince about the character roles they play. Therefore, what we are interested in reading a critic’s review is his/her ideas about the skill (or lack) of the movie's filmmakers in their approach and tools used to tell their story. And how effective this all has been. Was the story understandable? Was it any good? Regardless whether we agree or not with the filmakers, that is... Shall we experience a personal change at all, or not? Shall we learn anything we didn't know before? Did we... yes indeed, did we become 'better' persons in any conceivable way after watching the movie? A movie critic who can touch upon subjects of the "movie language" used and create an accurate picture in our mind about how well or not the filmmakers achieved their goal is, IMHO, a critic worth his job-title.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

To UHD or not to UHD? That is the question...

One of the most frustrating experiences of today in UHD and xK video, whereby x equals 2.5, 4, 5, 6 and 8 (as far as I know) is that there is no content available yet. Not even as a joke. Even if you find some obscure UHD content online, it's not a given that it will play on your brand new UHD TV, if you happen to have bought one. Too early for this. The best proof of this argument is the footage they demo in TV shops to show-off their goodies. All purpose made to play in mysterious ways on the TV set in question. It's the same problem we had with HDTV sets years ago. Even to this day, most, if not all, of the commercial TV programming is broadcasted in 720p. Anything beyond that is likely the result of a lame upscaling... Only Bluray disks and computer video files provisioned via externally attached hard disks or SSDs (via USB) can be used to show-off the entire FHD resolutions!

There's been a myriad articles about why eventually we are all going to the next wave of TV experience, the so-called UHD (Ultra High Definition) being everything above the infamous FHD (aka 1080p). Here's one of the best I read. Just to feel what this is about, consider this. The so called 4K (not the 4K Cinematic... this is even larger) is 3840 pixels across by 2160 pixels vertical. This is exactly four times larger than your regular 1080p FHD TV you are so proud of... It's like you'd stacked four FHD TV monitors in a matrix of 2 by 2! However, the physical size of the UHD monitor itself isn't very much different than what we are used to now with our normal TVs... 40 inches diagonal and up sort of thing. In other words, your regular FHD TV has about 2 million pixels spread over the entire surface of a, say, 42 inch monitor (92.5 cm horizontal by 52.5 cm vertical, that is). However, the equivalent 4K UHD TV of the same diagonal 42 inches will squeeze four times as many pixels over the same surface! It's like you split one of your old pixels to make four new ones!

You may still wonder what all this means in practice. Let me give you an example that I worked out recently. I bought me two pieces of equipment first. A brand new Lumix GH4 camera that can record internally and also output 4K signals at its micro HDMI interface (4.2.2 compressed at 10 bit color subsampling per RGB channel), and a Philips 42PUS7809/12 UHD TV of 42 inches diagonal size. My previous set was a Samsung FHD, which was OK but it's native resolution was simply the good ol' 2 megapixels of the FHD resolution. No way possible to demo the GH4 4K goodies on it. To show anything at a native FHD monitor you first have to down convert the HDMI signal into 1080p, which actually defeats the purpose, right?

Long story short, after some online chatting with a Philips Helpline kid I managed to display a full fledged 4K GH4 Live signal (!!!) via one of the Philips HDMI inputs. The GH4 was looking at my 27" iMac and it's extended second Apple display, at their native resolution of 2560x1440 pixels each. I am saying this because the iMac too isn't able to drive the Philips monitor at 4K either. All it can do is mirror itself and just display 2560 horizontal pixels by 1440 vertical max. In itself this is also UHD, but not the native 4K Philips boasted and I needed to experience. As long as I didn't have a source of genuine 4K to feed the Philips HDMI ports I couldn't possibly see and feel what it was like to own a UHD TV and enjoy genuine UHD content on it. Of course, my iMac was a way to experience resolutions above FHD on the new TV for the first time, even if it was less than the full Monty... I had managed to create a few clips in 4K that I shot with the GH4 and edited in FCP. When I opened them with Quicktime 1:1 on the iMac they extended beyond the visible limits of the monitor. Wow! So, playing them in full screen via mirroring on the Philips TV screen, as I explained earlier, couldn't get to more than the 2560x1440 the Mac could manage. It was 2.5K, not 4K! Apparently only the latest Retina Macbooks, and of course the Mac Pro can manage monitors up to 4K, several of them presumably for the Mac Pro and its stunning 7 something Teraflops! So, unless I upgrade my Mac Hardware there ain't gonna be a way to drive the Philips from my Mac into its native 4K. Tough shit, pardon my French. Maybe a good excuse to own eventually the black marvel...

Anyways, the moment the GH4 was capable of displaying its live view on the Philips monitor I almost fainted. It was the moment I realised what a resolution of 3840 pixels across with 2160 pixels vertical really MEANS!!! This is far too much for aged dudes like myself. This 4K resolution is far too big to be true. Unless you see it with your bare eyes and goggles you won't be able to tell. Words are not enough.

Nevertheless, to taste a thin slice of my experience, take a good look at the shots hereunder (click for larger view).



This first shot above shows the Philips monitor in all its glory, and all 42 inches of it. In front, the Lumix GH4 shooting the other side of the room, connected to the Philips HDMI 3 input (you can see the black cable). In other words, the Philips monitor shows what the GH4 sees. That's mainly two Apple monitors, one is the iMac itself and the second another external Apple display, 27" as well. On the latter, I have opened a PDF document from Philips itself, showing in a table the codecs, frame rates, AV containers, and resolutions supported in all their TVs. Needless to say, nothing above 1080p. Makes you wonder... why sell UHD TVs if you don't even support playback of video files at that resolution... let alone that the Bluray consortium is still struggling with Standards to reach agreement on the support of UHD resolutions on optical disks... no remedy short term from there either. Anyways...

Next point... I referred to the PDF on display on the second monitor for a reason... right? That's because the following shot hereunder shows the actual goodies UHD TVs have to offer. I thus took an extreme closeup shot of the Philips monitor of a few rows of the aforementioned PDF table to show-off the level of detail that is possible thru native UHD. The size of the type in terms of Philips monitor pixels is between 6 and 7 tall (count them if you don't believe me). If you wondered what the 6-30 numbers mean, it's simply the frame rates... irrelevant for the purpose of this discussion. Take a look on the table now... (click for larger view).


Does this make any sense to you? I won't go any further. A picture is worth a thousand words... Literally.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

#BRAGER : Another Epoch another Blitz!

It was the night of statistics. For winners and losers. Never before a team was defeated with this score on a World Cup semi final. The Shame of Shames. New world record for Klose with 16 World Cup goals, stolen from Brazilian born Ronaldo. Brazil was never defeated by a foreign team in their own backyard. And it went on and on like this. For hours... The morning papers continued the stats teasers, adding more oil to the fire of South American humiliation...

Every new goal the Germans scored yesterday, the TV reporter dusted off more and more of those old stats. What we had hard time grasping was that this was a simple case of 'history in the making'! We were clueless. Jaws dropped to the floor. Shocked! Flabbergasted! At a given moment, when the goals followed each other literally seconds apart, I thought some scenes were actually 'replays' of the 'previous' goals. I hadn't yet realised those were brand new smashes into Julio's nets. Unglaublich! Brazil fans wished they could ALT-CTRL-DEL and start over again. I'd lost count. 

Imagine you were on the Brazilian side yesterday, when all this was going on. Weeping faces and bitter tears of men, women, and children. A shattered dream. All their chauvinist fire and energy, conspicuous during the singing of their anthem moments earlier, quickly disappeared into oblivion. Few chewed their national colours for snack (see above). In comedian George Lopez's hilarious words... these are not tears of sorrow... these are tears of frustration! Dutch ex-football international Jan Mulder, sitting on a live TV panel and watching the game, empathised: "I feel so sorry for these people... you know, when things like that happen in one of our Euro countries, people say, well, that happens... forgive and forget... let's go to the beach!"

This was one of those events, that years from now we shall be asking each other... "where were you the night Germany shredded the Seleção into nothingness?". It was like 9-11 sort of thing. (BTW, I was in my office in Paris then, and I remember I looked stunned at Paul, my Finance Assistant, when he told me that one of the twin towers had just collapsed!)

After the match, I stayed up for a few more hours, deep into the early morning, enjoying Twitter postings on #BRAGER hashtag. It was laughs and tears all over, together with innuendos of bitchiness and irony. Some very creative postings indeed. One that I thought was very funny was an animated GIF with a cocktail glass filled with yellow-orange based alcohol mix, a slice of orange and lime, and a tiny proud Brazilian flag on a tooth-stick, like those we usually find piercing cocktail party snacks. Strong samba music in the background... Suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge German beer-glass hits the cocktail from above, and hardly any trace of shattered glass or juice left over... samba sounds were muted in microseconds. Cemetery silence! Only leftover beer foam continued to slowly slide down the outer walls of the lager glass, like a bitter Brazilian tear.


Before the smash...

...and after!

Someone else posted: Brazilians have Neymar, the Portugese, Ronaldo, Argentinians got Messi, but... Germans have a team! Where individuals are sacrificed in the interest of the whole group. 'German football prima donna' is an oxymoron! How true! In an interview right after the game, when a reporter asked Klose how he felt about his brand new 16 WC goals record, he responded (!!!) that the team was playing well and that it is their team and the coach that had to be credited for today's achievement, and more of this dry ya-di-da-di-da-da... Humility? Sense of duty? Discipline? Dry humor? What can I say? Emotionless MFs, outstanding sportsmen though, raised and taught to 'serve' with humility. Without any shadow of 'emotional weakness'. The definition of freezing 'cool'! Even the handful naturalised foreigners in their team, Boateng, Oezil, Khedira look over-Germanised! What can you say? Any Latino player achieving Klose's feat and record... OMG, the world wouldn't be big enough to accommodate the ego. Expecting scores of virgin chicas to parade right in front of him and choose to his heart's desire... 

Not Klose though... He even blushed and felt humble at the question, looked everywhere around except the reporter in the eyes, and came up with an answer that anybody, military camp-drilled and brainwashed to the bone, would have come up with. Androids, non-human, responding with scripted answers. Get a life, man! There's more to it than fuessbal! Die Mannschaft... ok, they are plain good... too good to be true yesterday, maybe... yep... but Mein Gott, they are so boring! Like a German colleague once said "German humor is not a laughing matter". How could it?

On the other hand, what happened yesterday also proved my 'theory' about 'emotion' vs. 'discipline' and 'method'. Like Sax K., an ex-colleague, recently wrote me: It's about time someone teaches South Americans a lesson in football.  It's about time they stopped the screaming and yelling, and it's time to put their 'brains' back to 'work'. By means of emotions and deafening noises no issues were ever reasonably resolved... This, by the way, is not only true for football matches, but in many situations of everyday life too. Especially during unjustified union actions undermining national economies, when massive crowds flock the streets to help 'solve' problems they have created themselves in the first place, due to their lack of discipline, respect for each other, and much more vice like this. All this in the name of democracy, goes without saying... 

I won't mention names...


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Louis van G(enius)aal!

Kuyt hugs legendary Krul after his second and game
winning save. Van Persie flies towards them too.
The Flying Dutchmen. Literally!
I have rarely enjoyed football as I did last night, when the Dutch team faced Costa Rica. The game was terrible in fact, 2/3s ball possession by the Dutch, but no goals. Many shots in the goal but (often lucky) Keylor Navas, the perfect goalkeeper, notorious for his training with tennis balls shot at him by a pro tennis player and never missing one, was able to defend his goalposts until the last minute, after a long game with extensions reaching the best part of 130 minutes (incl. the extra time at the end of each period).

Like I said, the game was terrible. The Costa Ricans blocked the Dutch most of the time with almost their entire team defending and closing all possible holes towards their goalposts. Despite great and heroic Dutch efforts and frequent near-miss goal-shots, Navas and his co-defenders managed to keep the game to a draw until the end. I watched it on the Dutch TV with an outstanding commentator, talking quite objectively with humility, I'd say. He excused himself midway second half suggesting that it seemed like, after the game between Greece and Cost Rica came to a draw that the latter eventually won on penalties, it was obvious Costa Ricans yesterday didn't quite play 'to win' but rather 'not to lose' during regular time, to eventually win the penalty shootout with Superhero Navas. Displaying a sample of 'effective' South American football tactics. No football entertainment whatsoever, but a rather calculated game to win at all costs with all known dirty tricks of the trade. Too much money at stake...

But this Dutch squad was not your regular cup-of-tea. They are trained and led by Louis Van Gaal, you see... a Dutch legendary coach who wrote football history in the past as manager of Ajax, Barcelona, AZ and FC Bayern München. Someone on the Belgian TV reporter panel mentioned that Van Gaal may be one of the best coaches in the history of football. A comment coming from a Belgian about a Dutch weighs twice, if you know what I mean... Following his World Cup in Brazil performance, he is about to continue his long brilliant career (he'll become 63 in August this year, so there's easily another ten years until retirement), when he starts as the new manager of legendary ManU in the UK. A dream coach with a legendary career. The man about whom a Catalan ex-colleague of mine responded, when I sent him a teaser message after Spain's 5-1 defeat by the Dutch in the beginning of the tournament: We're ready to have (back) van Gaal to (lead) Barcelona any day!

Nevertheless, the Dutch wouldn't be Dutch if they didn't criticise van Gaal and his decisions all the time, and go in lengths accusing him of all sorts of tactics and strategy misjudgements. He is aware of that of course and stays cool at all moments, especially when ambitious journalists dare ask him irritating questions that drive him up the walls. In a recent press conference such a spineless reporter implicitly pointed at him for tactically setting up a defensive game against Chile. Question was asked in English. Visibly irritated by the question, Van Gaal responded in Dutch by saying. "You, who asked the question, can you please give me the definition of 'offensive football'? Yes, you, the reporter who asked the 'smart question' (slimme vraag in Dutch)". Then of course he continued with his professional, strategic and managerial answer to explain his decision that literally shrunk the 'ambitious' reporter into obsoleteness. I happened to have watched that particular Van Gaal clip on TV several times, and got convinced he is definitely the coach who will win this tournament, hands down. The man is simply too good to be true... A manager and a Leader!

Unfortunately, many, out of jealousy and envy, I suppose, will not easily accept any such claim. What the hell do I know about football, you may ask... Maybe not as much as most of you, but I know shedloads about 'management' and 'leadership', and I can tell a strategic mind when I see one or hear one talk! Anyways... The unconvinced will continue to blame van Gaal anyways. Only yesterday alone 'De Telegraaf', a nationwide Dutch paper, displayed in its front page a full body shot van Gaal portrait photoshoped into a pirate of the Caribbean, carrying a long pirate sword with a dozen bananas pierced through. I fail to see the implied metaphor, but it simply shows the spirit of some Dutch idiots about their National Squad's coach. It's a fact of life indeed that Dutch self-awareness and self-conviction makes them often behave and think not like "I know better than all the rest', but rather 'why anyone else should know more than me?" There is this slight nuance in their subtle intellectual arrogance, you see. Often quite irritating but charming nevertheless.

So the Dutch and many others doubted van Gaal for a long time. Until yesterday, I hope. It was yesterday that his genius showed up like a blinding light in the darkness of cruel South American football tactics that we may have witnessed in recent tournament weeks. Leading up to last Friday's unfortunate incident of a Colombian 'player' (a savage for sure) 'tackling' the 22 year old Brazilian world-class scorer Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior... It was a calculated public execution as evidenced by the slow-mo replay of the incident.

Like I said, I have been watching yesterday's game on the Dutch NOS-1 TV channel. I am sick and tired of tactless Flemish commentators filling their discourse with useless tabloid faits divers about the players's personal lives, and often being that close to be called racist for their comments. Like in the recent game between Greece and Costa Rica, when the slime reporter accused Karagounis and most other Greek players for "missing a career in Greek Drama theater" each time they were knocked to the ground by 'friendly' South American fire. Of course, Belgians never won any World or Euro cup and will never do, seems like. Greece winning the Euro cup in Portugal in 2004 irritates sensitive Belgian reporter throats, each time they try to swallow the memories.

It's on decisive moments like this one in the history of football, when real geniuses shine. It was van Gaal's moment yesterday. When everybody on the Dutch supporter community was death sad about what was to come, van Gaal kept one last crucial player replacement that he was left with in his box of hattricks. That white rabbit was Tim Krul, and he was not a shooter! Van Gaal's last replacement was a new... goalkeeper. Who would have imagined? Who would have approved? But, Van Gaal is not your usual little town team coach. He is The Legendary van Gaal! We had to give him the benefit of the doubt for sure. Tim Krul, tall, fresh, self confident, whom we only yesterday saw perform in this tournament. A man who would write Dutch football history. It was not just us, casual supporters, that were stunned though! Most important, the Costa Ricans 'lost it'. In Dick Cheney's infamous words, 'Awe and Shock allover'! Obviously, they didn't know much about the new kid, they visibly lost control and most importantly their confidence; it was plain psychological warfare that good ol' Louis resorted to. Both, friends and critics were simply flabbergasted. The NOS reporter spoke of the same emotional effect on the South Americans (to me anything south of Mexico is South America, sorry...) . It was obvious in their faces as they approached the point to shoot their turn of penalty. Krul approached them too, friendly we thought initially, as they were busy fixing the penalty ball on the grass-mat, looking them straight in the eye, drilling them into their brains to read their minds, intimidating them (I wish I knew what van Gaal taught him to tell them), and returning with his 6' 4" length between his goalposts, looking bigger than life!

The Dutch penalty shooters, the squad's top players Van Persie, Robben, Kuyt, and Sneijder (who else?), shot their own turn right into the nets, almost piercing them, scoring a safe goal each. Navas remained simply helpless. A good kid, and an outstanding goalkeeper, but too tired to undertake this one last feat executed by that particular Dutch machine-gun round. Navas's team had already used all their replacements and, even if they had one more to do, like the Dutch, they had no other keepers to use it on. How many shots can you still catch, even if you are Navas himself, eh? Or even legendary one-eyed Gordon Banks? Navas's PR stunt with tennis balls shot against him suddenly evaporated in the light of reality, and remained a 'faits divers' for time-killers to watch on YouTube.

Needless to say, Krul ejected himself into the direction of the shot each and every turn of the Costa Ricans, and saved two out of four penalties (50%!!!). One among them was the shot by celebrity goal maker Ruiz! Only the best will eventually win...

Upcoming feat for the Dutch: Next Wednesday July the 9th, the facing of mighty Messi and his legendary Argentina squad in the second semi finals. This time though, our good Northern neighbours will have to deliver a 'payback' to the Messi clan for their pathetic win over Belgium that their lame attitude and an early lucky goal led them to. I strongly believe van Gaal is going for the cup. He said so publicly too. He'll leave Brazil with the cup in his hands. Will the South American emotional and cruel football style be able to stop him? I don't think so. It is clearly football tactics and brains against heartbeats and emotions. In cases like these mostly brains emerge as winners. Emotions end up in tears and deafening noise. You may not like it, but that's the way it is.