SIFF 2019: Lynch: A History (David Shields, 2019)


If this movie was nothing more than a collection of randomly-edited clips of Marshawn Lynch doing stuff, it’d still be one of the most entertaining films of this year’s Seattle International Film Festival. But like its subject, there’s a lot more to Lynch: A History than catch-phrases, crotch-grabs, and motherfuckers getting their faces run through. Director David Shields, an English professor at the University of Washington, is best known as the author of the acclaimed Black Planet, a look at race and the NBA through the lens of the SuperSonics 1994-95 season. Lynch appears to be a follow-up to that story, using the football player, and his contentious history with the media, as a way to explore the confluence of race, sports, and the media. Like Lynch himself, at various times gregarious, silly, hilarious, taciturn, guarded, shy, and angry, the film heightens the contradictions of a systemically racist society that elevates young, physically gifted black men into multimillionaire role models while attempting to control their every means of expression.

Entirely made up of archival film clips, hitting all the highlights, on the field and off, of Lynch’s public career, the film situates him in a long history of Bay Area radicals, Oakland residents from Jack London to Bobby Seale to Tupac Shakur. We get clips of African folklorists discussing trickster gods intercut with classic hilarious Lynch clips (like driving the cart around the field at Cal, or drinking a fan-proffered bottle of Fireball and throwing Skittles to the crowd during the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory parade). We get all the amazing runs (deeply-profane fan videos of the Beast Quake are always welcome) and all the self-righteous whining from the media about Lynch’s refusal to answer their stupid questions. About the only great Lynch content I noticed was missing was when he played Mortal Kombat with Rob Gronkowski.

Marshawn Lynch is one of my all-time favorite athletes, I’m thankful to have been closely following the team for his entire Seahawks career, and so of course I’m happy to see these clips again. But thanks to Shields’s expert editing and contextualizing of Lynch’s life and the coverage of it, it’s impossible to watch all this without questioning our own complicity in American racism. The obvious morons of the sports media world, the guys that call Colin Kaepernick dumb for example, make for easy targets (we’re all Randy Moss glaring at Trent Dilfer). More difficult is trying to understand just how much of our enjoyment of Lynch’s surreal weirdness and his other-worldly physicality on the field is based on his conforming to the limited and limiting roles (clown, thug, angry youth) available to black men in the public eye. Possibly as disturbing is the broader question of whether a life lived in that public eye, as it has been for star athletes for a long time and as it increasingly seems to be for the rest of us, can ever possibly be authentic and not just an amalgam of adopted roles and stereotypes, and if that’s always been the case anyway, regardless of the omnipresence of panoptic media.

Friday May 31 – Thursday June 6

Featured Film:

SIFF Week Three

The Seattle International Film Festival is still going. Some of the titles we’re looking forward to this week include: Legend of the Stardust Brothers, an experimental Japanese film from 1985 that SIFF is billing as a goofy camp oddity; Enamorada, a classic Mexican melodrama starring María Félix and Pedro Armendáriz; Distinction, the new solo film from Trivisa and Ten Years co-director Jevons Au; I Am Cuba, the restoration of the Soviet-Cuban propaganda film that is quite simply one of the best movies ever made; One, Two Three, one of Billy Wilder’s most underrated movies, a screwball about Cold War capitalism starring a never-better James Cagney; and Romanian director Radu Jude’s latest, I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

The Biggest Little Farm (John Chester) Fri-Thurs 

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Amazing Grace (Sydney Pollack) Fri-Thurs 

Central Cinema:

Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993) Fri-Tues
The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987) Fri-Tues 
The Matrix (Lilly & Lana Wachowski, 1999) Weds Only 

SIFF Egyptian:

The 2019 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program 

Century Federal Way:

Muklawa (Simerjit Singh) Fri-Thurs 
Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998) Sun & Weds Only 

Grand Cinema:

The Man who Killed Don Quixote (Terry Gilliam) Fri-Thurs 
The Biggest Little Farm (John Chester) Fri-Thurs 
Tell It to the Bees (Annabel Jankel) Fri-Thurs 
Red Joan (Trevor Nunn) Fri-Thurs 
Castle in the Sky (Hayao Miyazaki, 1986) Sat Only Subtitled
Neither Wolf nor Dog (Steven Lewis Simpson) Mon Only 
The Public (Emilio Estevez) Tues Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Man who Killed Don Quixote (Terry Gilliam) Fri-Thurs 
The Wind (Emma Tammi) Fri-Thurs 

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

NGK (Selvaraghavan) Fri-Thurs 
The Biggest Little Farm (John Chester) Fri-Thurs 
De De Pyaar De (Akiv Ali) Fri-Thurs 
Falaknuma Das (Vishwaksen Naidu) Fri-Thurs 
Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998) Sun & Weds Only 

Regal Meridian:

The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

Walking on Water (Andrey Paounov) Fri-Tues, Thurs 
The Image You Missed (Dónal Foreman) Sat & Sun Only 

AMC Pacific Place:

The Biggest Little Farm (John Chester) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

De De Pyaar De (Akiv Ali) Fri-Thurs 
The White Crow (Ralph Fiennes) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Film Center:

The 2019 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program 

AMC Southcenter:

The Biggest Little Farm (John Chester) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Thornton Place:

Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998) Sun & Weds Only 

SIFF Uptown:

The 2019 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program 

Varsity Theatre:

Domino (Brian De Plama) Fri-Thurs 
Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998) Sun Only