How strange it seems today, returning forty years to the most watched tennis match ever, the extravagantly billed Battle of the Sexes, where self-styled male chauvinist, Bobby Riggs, takes on Billie Jean King for a $100,000 winner-takes-all prize and the even more important bragging rights in the fiercely contested gender war raging within the game itself and wider society.
What a preposterous event this was. Bobby Riggs, a superb champion in his day, was now in his mid-Fifties and doing battle with arguably the greatest woman tennis player of all time during her peak. And yet, a fanatical 30,000 plus packed into the Houston Astrodome to witness the encounter first hand and another 100 million tuned in on their tellies, elevating this glorified foregone conclusion, a metaphorical circus act, into a historic 20th century sporting spectacle.
Co-directors, James Erskine and Zara Hayes, go with the flow, capturing the media frenzy during the match’s build-up and the palpable tension of almost every shot but, at the same time, setting the scene with some first-class contextualisation that demythologises the hype, revealing the real stories unfolding below the surface.
The women tennis players’ fight for equality plays out like a microcosm of the feminist struggle across the board. Some of the film’s best moments provide insight into nine leading players breaking away from the US Tennis Association and the split it causes within the women’s game. Billie Jean leads the way, arguing her case elegantly and emerging as a more important figure within the women’s movement than history sometimes remembers.
Riggs was a slippery character, playing the buffoon but in a media savvy sort of way, attracting huge attention with battle cries like “the best way to handle women is to keep them pregnant and barefoot” and constantly raising the stakes. He had already psyched out top women’s player, Margaret Court, winning a farce of contest where his opponent barely turned up.
Unsurprisingly, the politically switched on Billie Jean was reluctant to participate, aware of the underlying sexism beneath Riggs’ challenge, but felt compelled to accept after the Court fiasco. It was a best of five sets with Riggs fishing for political capital from the red herring argument that the men’s longer game warranted higher pay, rather than prize money being linked to bums on seats.
The pair go toe to toe with lively banter during press conferences but are noticeably comfortable in each others’ company. Billie Jean confronts him with a knowing smile, just as she does with her conservative husband who expresses views similar to Riggs’ but in a less offensive manner and it’s in these moments that we see glimpses of the real battle at ground level, a constant vying for power positions within American institutions where personal relationships complicate things.
A couple of gripes with this otherwise compelling documentary; the portrayal of the Court encounter is repetitive, making for a disjointed timeline and we could have done without the embarrassing tributes from today’s women players at the end.fluoxetine 40 mg capsulefluoxetine for social anxietyprozac liquid formfluoxetine 20 mg cap
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