Review: One Man and His Shoes

Directed by Yemi Bamiro, exploring the phenomenon of Air Jordan sneakers showing their social, cultural and racial significance and how ground-breaking marketing strategies created a multi-billion-dollar business. Featuring: David Falk, Jemele Hill, Scoop Jackson, DJ Clark Kent, Roland Lazenby, David Stern and Rick Telander.

One of the most obvious things to note for this documentary is that it’s about Jordans but doesn’t in fact feature Michael Jordan, the reason for that becomes much clearer as it enters its final chapter, discussing the negative consequences of their success. The set-up and progression of the film don’t reveal what seems to be its actual intention until far too late, in the latter stages when it shows the shocking number of people that have been killed over a pair of the iconic shoes, it’s clear this is what they really wanted to talk about. It doesn’t leave too much time to delve into it, as it actually makes a fantastic point about the extreme behaviour caused by modern consumerism, high demands and exclusivity. It’s a shame that they weren’t more upfront about these intentions to allocate it a larger portion of the film, there was a much greater discussion to be had about where responsibility lies and how it can be resolved but no sufficient time to explore it.

Outside of that, the film tracks the rise of Air Jordans and the impact that their creation had on society in the larger picture. It’s fascinating to hear them talk about how they came to be, and that it wasn’t inherently simple, with Jordan not even wanting to get involved with Nike in the first place, initially preferring Adidas. It walks you through all the different steps to its success, however the most clear idea being that they were original, so much so they were banned from being worn in the NBA, considered to be breaking the rules. Its exploration of the iconic Spike Lee advertisement is great but it lacks one key factor, Spike himself, again the main man is left out of the picture, quite possibly not agreeing to be in the film due to its later content but that’s simply conjecture of course. It holds a lot of fascinating information and not just for people with an interest in sneakers, tracing how it skyrocketed the progression and evolution of sports marketing and sponsorship deals, leading to Jordan’s eye-watering net worth, with a contract anyone would be jealous of.

Perhaps one of the best things about the documentary is that as well as the people that worked for Nike, they also have people like Hill, Jackson and Kent to give a more first-hand, finger on the pulse, perspective of the cultural impact of Jordans. It gives a larger personality to the film to have a diverse selection of talking heads, so that it’s not a repetitive conversation simply on how the shoes came to be from its makers, but a discussion of their remarkable impact. It’s also technically very well put together, the progression may not be ideal but their use of animation, music, the editing and real-world interviews and footage give it a strong atmosphere and energy.

One Man and His Shoes is not just a documentary for sneakerheads, it has a poignant message about the dangers of consumerism and how commercial success on such a scale has inevitably negative consequences. It reaches a surprisingly deep emotional level and it’s far from being simply a puff piece for Nike, but it’s a shame that they take much too long to get to the real crux of the film and could have moved through the creation of the shoe much quicker to dedicate more time to the more serious message that it holds.

Verdict: ✯✯✯

Out now on digital and coming soon as part of BBC Two’s season of British films

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