Essential Viewing

Breaking the Wall: Kobe Bryant’s MUSE

Whether or not you are a fan, everyone could probably agree there are many words that can be used to describe Kobe Bryant. Arguably, the title of his new Showtime documentary “Muse” could be one too.

The 83 minute doc starts the night he ruptured his left Achilles tendon and follows him throughout the recovery process. Broken into chapters, the documentary doesn’t just provide insight into an athlete’s recovery from injury, or a clip reel married to a stats sheet, but a carefully curated peek into a player’s many other Achilles’ heels. From loner tendencies in his youth, to his unyielding and sometimes grating will to win, to showing remorse and believing to be the cause of his wife’s miscarriage, the mighty Bryant who once scored 81 points in one night looks into the camera, turns away from it, squirms in discomfort, and even sheds a few tears — perhaps proof that he is fallible.

These moments of humanity are heightened by the thoughtful and equally stylized way the doc is shot. Part Nike ad, part highlight reel, part perfume commercial, part home video montage — Kobe stares right to camera and is always talking to you. You. The viewer. He is looking right at you, while you sit in your living room wearing sweatpants and eating take out.

Bryant is named executive producer on the doc and that itself has opened up the piece for criticism. According to some reports, there was an entire other doc that was scrapped, at Kobe’s request, and revamped to create this one. There are no other interviews in the film, and life with his wife and daughters are only briefly touched . All the criticisms, deprecation, lauding and subject matter is given to us through one lens — Bryant’s.

This leads to the idea of breaking down the wall. It isn’t about the other voices that could add to the narrative. It is his voice. His attempt to connect with the fan. Derek Jeter created a forum for athletes to this with “The Player’s Tribune“, Steve Nash has his own documentary series, and A-Rod is getting into handwritten notes. Whether it’s through Twitter or podcasts or blogs, athletes are no longer trying to be just “sports stars” — many want to make a direct connection to the fans they are trying to entertain.  No longer should it just be the sound bite in the post-game press conference or the lofty memoir written years into retirement that lends us insight into their thoughts on the game. It is in their real time analysis, in 140 characters or long opinion pieces, that brings us closer to those we think of as muses.

Whether you like the documentary or find it a contrived puff piece for an aging athlete, the appeal of having Bryant talk to you, not a reporter, is undeniable and thankfully not left on the cutting room floor.

LATA PANDYA | @LataPandya

Lata Pandya is an award-winning TV and radio journalist. Currently she works as a producer on the Los Angeles-based public television news magazine show SoCal Connected. She freelances with several news organizations in the LA Area. Lata holds an undergraduate degree from University of California, Santa Barbara and a graduate degree from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. She is known to be notorious about watching sports  while researching public policy stories.

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