Oi Polloi

Films and Things: Tennis

Published: Thu Jul 13 2017

Modern tennis and cinema have almost been around for as long as each other. At first glance, they may seem entirely different; one is a sport in which two (or four!) players smack a ball back and forth until one of them can't smack the ball back - or something (I don't really watch tennis but sometimes I watch my mum watching tennis), the other is entertainment: handsome people are filmed doing things, like jumping out of helicopters or kissing each other, and shown in multiplexes. 

But, if we pop our deerstalker on and spark up our pipes, we can see that the two aren't that different after all. 

The people in films and the people who play tennis are incomparably stylish. Here are some classic tennis film styles… 

Claire's Knee - 1970

Up first, you've got your classic off-court sweater and Lacoste polo combo, as seen in Claire's Knee, directed by Éric Rohmer. 

This film concerns itself with Jerome, a man about to be wed, who becomes entangled with two teenage sisters. The easy, laid-back style of this French film easily compliments the summer sport, and shows us a side of tennis we, unfortunately, rarely get to see: taking time off the courts to ogle a 16-year-old's knee, a favoured off-court past time of Borg, Federer, and Perry. 

The Squid and the Whale - 2005

Then you've got your failed writer/tutor desperately trying to prove your worth played by Jeff Daniels in Noah Baumbach's film, The Squid and the Whale

The film, set in Brooklyn in the mid-80's, shows the gradual, bitter decline of a marriage, and its effect on children. The court is not only a sporting battleground; it is a battleground of wit, intelligence and grace. This style mainly comprises of old school, Fila-esque striped polos, thick beards and sweatbands.

The discarded brown corduroy blazer adds to the the mise en scène of a man shredding his defences, all in the name of tennis. You've also got your pretty-much-given-up-on-life-because-my-sister-who-I-love-has-a-husband look, as modelled by Richie in Wes Anderson's The Royal Tennebaums

The Royal Tennebaums - 2001

Aside from all the dark content in this film which I won't go into, the film looks like candy and has a tennis player in, so it qualifies for me to talk about. This is the look to cite when discussing how tennis can break a man, much like the craft of a film can break a man. Just ask Andy Murray, who hasn't directed a film since his meltdown on the set of his 2003 film, Narcissus in the Sky

Annie Hall - 1977

And finally, you've got your hip, New-York first date style, with Woody Allen's Annie Hall, in which an ageing, neurotic man falls in love with a young woman (tennis players and young women, eh?). Woody's look in this film exhibits tennis anxiety; the kind of anxiety that rushes through a players head when his crisp Jack Purcell’s touch the court. “Is his serve stronger than mine? Is his polo shirt fresher than mine? Ah-gee...my analyst is gonna have a field day after this game.” You know, that sort of stuff.  

Each one of these outfits has a distinct style legacy and a direct relationship to the subject matter of the film. Everything is interconnected in regards to the cinematic art, and… err... tennis. 

To round this off, here's Jack Nicholson in a film about witches I've never seen.