London Film Festival Review: One Man and His Shoes
Henry Jordan reviews One Man and His Shoes from the London Film Festival.
I’m not someone who knows much about the twin topics of One Man and His Shoes. The furthest my interest in fashion goes is “will my close friends and family mock me for this outfit?” and everything I know about basketball I learnt from my four obsessive watches of Uncut Gems. That means I should have absolutely zero interest in a documentary about how a basketball legend created a sneaker empire, but the reason One Man and His Shoes succeeds is because its scope is much wider than that.
There is a chance the first half of this film will bore you, which I know isn’t exactly high praise. In order to build to what’s coming later in the film, it needs to establish context for the idiots in the audience (like myself) whose knowledge of Michael Jordan starts and ends at Space Jam. If you’re familiar with the excellent documentary O.J: Made in America, then think of it as a lightweight version of that. The difference is, O.J. gets to spend almost three hours on context, One Man gets barely an hour. The presentation is flashy and engrossing, though it feels worryingly close to the kind of vapid Vox video that might make up five minutes of a particularly sad night of doomscrolling.
As the documentary powers forward, it only grows in strength. There’s a particularly great section where Spike Lee is discussed and how the adverts he made with Michael Jordan mythologised his shoes more so than even his incredible sporting skills could. If you’ve never taken a moment to reflect on how marketing and advertising work in late capitalism, you might find it quite startling.
And then we reach the final act of the film. We see how artificial scarcity of these sneakers creates a fatal cultural cache. I had no idea, but it gets to the point where there have been numerous murders motivated by the acquisition of a new pair of Air Jordans. It’s a startling turn, in which the genius of marketing we were just pedalled is perverted. As one former Nike employee notes “It’s advertising that worked too well”. The fact that fans of Michael Jordan and his brand may watch this documentary for a safe reinforcement and be suddenly confronted with a vicious critique of the murderous power of late capitalism is more than enough for me to recommend this film.