On April 14, 2019, a nasty ice storm swept over the McCormick Convention Center in Chicago, greeting Jedis with their lightsabers, princesses in their cinnamon bun wigs, and Sith Lords, some with asthma.war of stars“Celebration. About 860 miles separate Chicago from Augusta, Georgia; even so, two marquee events stood still.
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I waited in a packed bar at the McCormick Center to avoid the replicas of Rey’s staff hitting my head as every TV was tuned to the Masters. The former golden boy Tiger Woods– who once avoided so brightly, but has now fallen so – had not won a major championship since 2008. Still, he had the power to bind. On that stormy day in Chicago, just weeks before the promise of spring fulfills the cheer of summer, Woods putted a bogey on the 18th hole to win the Masters.
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Woods, the golfer known simply as the Tiger, had spent over a decade licking his self-inflicted wounds before returning to those familiar greens. Before the sex scandals, divorce, and DUI – before it became its current shell – he dominated pastoral sport with the same intensity that brought Michael Jordan to the basketball court. Its meteoric rise and Icarus-like fall are the stuff of Greek tragedy. It’s the hero’s journey (although that hero could be the villain). And it is the Son who answers for the Father’s sins. Directors Matthew Hamachek and Matthew Heineman Study all of that and more in their two-part HBO documentaries. “tiger, “An engaging series about a scholar who splits up his emotional gaps and never gets us all the way down.
Hamachek and Heineman tear down tearfully Earl Woods, Tiger’s father, honors his son at the Haskins Collegiate Awards banquet in 1996. While the lens fixes on Earl for a while, until the camera heads for a celebratory tiger, the atmosphere of this celebration fluctuates between a laudation and an anointing. From the moment Earl took a two-year-old tiger on television to show off his skills to Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart, ironically the bastions of white America, his father believed his son had a greater destiny. “He will surpass this game and bring an unprecedented humanitarianism into the world,” proclaimed a proud Earl at the banquet. The statement would be silly, even harmful, if not for the teen’s already Herculean talents.
In the 90-minute part 1 of “Tiger”, Hamachek and Heineman examine a father-son relationship that is more like Frankenstein and his monster than a family bond. Home videos of Earl playing mind games with Tiger in the square are a reminder of how the elder Woods didn’t raise his son, he made him. The other insightful home videos recorded by Tiger’s ex-girlfriend, Dina, also feature a shy, radiant, real-life teenager playing the air saxophone or preparing for his prom. The sudden end of their relationship, a shocking manipulation that finds the once-cute tiger as empathetic as a college rejection letter, shows the tight grip the elder Woods held.
While Part 1 ends with the golfer’s proclamation of being “Cablinasian” and consumed by Earl’s belief that his son could become a bridge between the races, Hamachek and Heineman are not as concerned about Tiger’s ambivalence about his blackness. And although the filmmaker puts the younger Wood’s rejection of his father’s rainbow dream into the limelight and how he only leaned into his blackness during an advantageous but brazen Nike advertising campaign, they don’t approach the subject with the same depth as in “The last Dance“or”OJ: Made in America. “These provided the economic reasons for the apolitical stance of MJ and OJ. But “Tiger” overcomes the internal racial conflict that the golfer must have felt in view of his father, who positions him as an American racial messiah instead of sporting highlights.
Woods’ contemporaries are also missing from the documentaries. The golfer’s myth hangs on his impenetrable golf course mysticism, a killer instinct that routinely weakened his opponents on the final day of a given major. But other than Sir Nick Faldo and Rocco Mediate, who is his signature Hammy self, we have little idea what made Woods so intimidating. What reputation did he have among golfers, not only as an athlete but also as a person? What was it like to see him working on his craft? The filmmakers try to fill these blind spots with insightful interviews with the reporters who covered him. These efforts are neglected.
The 100-minute part 2 is not more detailed: Tiger separates from his father, starts training with Navy Seals, marries Elin and tries to get sexual escapades in Las Vegas. Hamachek and Heineman never deviate from their thesis: Tiger’s unhealthy relationship with his father has cultivated a psychopathic winner who is able to destroy his competition by dividing his emotions into personal self-destruction.
Unlike Luke Skywalker, however, not every problem goes back to Tiger’s father. While it piqued his appetite for white blonde women, it didn’t cause him to denounce his blackness or cut ties with his longtime caddy Steve Williams (Who is interviewed in the documentaries). The filmmakers are far too short-sighted with their subject.
In “Tiger” there are of course triumphs. To see the golfer at his peak – pumping his fist through the passionate gallery, finishing his incredible Tiger Slam and hobbling to victory at the 2008 US Open with a broken leg – is a journey into the past for his fans. The bottom line, his return to stardom at the Masters 2019 where he hugged his kids, is just as stirring. But Hamachek and Heineman make the same mistake as Woods: They buy in the heroic resurrection of Woods without exhausting his villainous journey completely.
Despite having one hand tied behind their backs, they were unable to interview Elin and his influential mother, Kultida. Woods gives the shortest seats – it’s all too worn, drab, or reliant on the aura of Woods history to grab our attention. Instead, Hamachek and Heineman’s documentaries “Tiger” miss the fairway for the rough. [C]
“Tiger” Part 1 debuts January 10th on HBO.