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PIN GODS (1996).

I grew up in a blue collar area that was proliferated with bowling alleys; and back when I was a kid, there was even a local live bowling show telecast every Sunday morning. Even sadder is the fact that I remember watching the damned thing (of course, when you only have three channels, and the other two choices are religious shows, the decision is obvious). And though I was never too good at the game, I definitely enjoyed it -- especially once I was old enough to suck down a few cold ones in between frames... Still, a feature length documentary on the world of pro bowling?!... Well, don't be so quick to pass it up. PIN GODS dares to ask the question, what drives a man to embrace this sport? It tries to answer it by following three newcomers as they try their luck in the big league tournaments, which takes them across the country, from California to Erie, Pennsylvania. There's Tony Rosamilia, a lovable middle-class kid with the girth of a hardcore kegler. Anton "Sonny" Pavelchak is an arrogant hotshot. Meanwhile, Bob Vespi has already tasted the spotlight, during his rookie year, but his mean hook makes him a wild card. He also proudly admits "I'm known for dressing well... On our level." The film cross-cuts between their very different trajectories, and much of the movie isn't even about actual bowling, but instead, the days in between games, as they're slowly cut from the field. In the end, it takes on a melancholy tinge as dreams are squashed and (difficult to believe) you actually begin to care about these lugs -- such as the once-cocky Sonny, who blows out early on and has to deal with his domineering father. More important, these working class stiffs aren't just in it for the fame. They actually need the prize money. Director Larry Locke, who admits he knew little about bowling beforehand, turns his inexperience into a blessing by observing the people more than the sport. He also manages to whittle a normal, leisurely ten frames into a more rapid-fire two minutes, while cinematographer Scott Pauly takes you right onto the lane itself. Along the way, we visit autographing sessions with (pathetic) fans who have them signing bowling pins; and let's not forget the appearances by Walter Ray Williams, longtime Zeus of the Pin Gods. Fueled by dreams of success, bittersweet twists of fate, and plenty of cool old bowling alleys, this gives the viewer a very real glimpse into a world most would never want to endure.

© 1997 by Steven Puchalski.