Director: Yemi Bamiro
Unless you are Imelda Marcos or Carrie Bradshaw, to most of us shoes are just a practical necessity, but when Nike introduced trainers worn and endorsed by basketball star Michael Jordan it revolutionised the trainer market in the 1980s and 1990s. The commercialised link between shoe brands and sports players is explored in Yemi Bamiro’s new documentary One Man and his Shoes, showing how the Nike-Jordan partnership changed the endorsement business.
Bamiro’s film is a lot of fun to watch, a potted history of 1970s and 80s basketball, the rise of Michael Jordan and the opportunistic connection with Nike told through a series of talking heads interspersed with photographs, graphics, archive game footage and montage sequences that add some hint of the socio-political context of the Reagan era.
This fairly traditional forward-narrative charts the transition from team-based endorsement, particularly by rival firm Converse who dominated team sportswear marketing, to the individual-focus on Jordan and how the trainers designed and sold would not only reflect his own colours and personality but would then be used by Jordan during matches.
Bamiro makes a convincing case, enjoying the collage effect he creates with the various visual materials, showing how marketing the shoes became almost secondary to marketing Michael Jordan himself, presenting a lifestyle to the public with a lead-in time of 5 months in which the sportsman wore the shoes before they became available for sale.
Apart from a brief mention of drug culture that claimed the life of a star player before Jordan’s era, the tone is almost entirely celebratory. This is a story of progress as the love of basketball and the popularity of each iteration of shoe went from strength-to-strength. But this focus on marketing and personality tells us little about the trainers themselves, how they were made, designed, adapted and produced on this scale or even how effective they were as the sports shoe of choice for Jordan on the court.
Danny Boyle’s albeit fictionalised story of Steve Jobs – closing the London Film Festival in 2015 – rightly demonstrated that the history of technological innovation is far from linear, and that is missing from One Man and His Shoes. In the final part of the documentary Bamiro starts to look at the negative consequences that this explosion of sports consumerism had for the young men robbed and killed for the trainers, implying that poverty and a culture of violence is to blame, leaving the families to make the link with this relentless aspirational marketing.
Following the shoe collectors is entertaining and the documentary takes a more emotional perspective as the outcomes of unremitting want are explored, but the effect this had on the sport, other players or even for Jordan himself is never covered. The light-hearted celebration of Nike’s marketing panache for most of One Man and His Shoes doesn’t quite earn its sudden socially conscious conclusion that attacks the subsequent passivity of the brand, but this is still an interesting story about the balance between corporate-generated aspiration and the sportsman who made them a billion dollars.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7 to 18 October