Documentary "Duke-Carolina: The Blue Blood Rivalry" offers interesting, alternative look at basketball feud

February 12, 2014

Los Angeles -- Filmmaker Jason Rem's revealing documentary "Duke-Carolina: The Blue Blood Rivalry," is not so much a game-by-game history of the competition between these two powerhouse basketball programs, but an examination of the local fan culture in the neighboring North Carolina towns of Durham and Chapel Hill.

The movie is based on and named after Art Chansky's book series on the two schools, and is recommended viewing for any college basketball fan.

At the Los Angeles red carpet premiere this past weekend, several former players from both schools showed up to reflect on their Tobacco Road days, including Jerry Stackhouse (UNC), Kenny Dennard (Duke), Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak (UNC), and current Laker players Ryan Kelly (Duke) and Kendall Marshall (UNC).

Prior to the film, fans were treated to a Q and A session with the players, who shared their memories and got in some good-natured ribbing at the opposition.

Kupchak, when asked about the arenas of both universities, described Duke's historic Cameron Indoor Stadium as "the basic dump that it always was."

Kupchak also had one of the more interesting stories of the afternoon, explaining that he learned the true nature of the rivalry when he got rousted out of his dorm bed and thrown into a pool by his teammates after they caught him wearing a Duke t-shirt.  He had received the shirt on a prior recruiting visit.

Contrary to what one would expect from a sports documentary, this 94-minute film does not focus exclusively on the players, journalists, or coaches involved, although there still is a significant amount of interview footage and game action included in the movie.

Instead, it is the fans -- perhaps the least qualified people to speak about the actual basketball games -- who have the starring role. The result is an interesting mixture of all those contrasting elements inherently found in sports fanatics: humor, frustration, knowledge, bias, and above all, passion.

The traditional documentary device of a voice-over narrator was deliberately eliminated in "Blue Bloods," as it is truly the fans story to tell.

The film takes the viewer along a fan's-eye view of the big game, counting down the hours and minutes before tipoff, as fans from the opposing schools share their anxieties and talk trash with their neighbors as the game approaches.

It is this "neighborhood" element which makes the rivalry truly special, as the fans from opposing sides live in close proximity to each other, and therefore, must interact on a regular basis.  That rare dynamic -- seen only in a few other instances, such as the UCLA-USC rivalry -- ratchets up the intensity on game day, when the continuous "who's better" debate finally gets answered.

"It's more of an inside-out look," said Rem of his film.  "So many people had done things on this rivalry that really showed the coaches, the games, and the players.  I was so inspired by the family environment -- the mayor, the fire chief, the different people who are involved behind-the-scenes -- I felt like showing that feeling of waking up in Carolina on game day, along with creating that ticking clock scenario."

Rem's vision of putting the fans in charge arguably lets the lunatics run the asylum, and makes the film alternately enlightening, frustrating, and funny.

It's funny when Duke's "Cameron Crazies" are shown camping outside the arena 35 days before the game, and UNC alum and comedian Lewis Black sarcastically notes how the Blue Devils "can't figure out a lottery."

It's enlightening when one realizes that the rivalry's roots began in 1794 long before the arrival of Coach K and Dean Smith, when a romantic incident occurred between two families that caused one to donate to Duke and the other to support UNC.

It's eye-opening for those outside the region when the movie shows firefighters driving Carolina Blue trucks, barber-shop debates, and generally people from all walks of life in the community so thoroughly invested in the rivalry.  Undoubtedly, the clash on the hardwood affects far more individuals than just the student body.

Of course, it is also frustrating and tedious at times, since the fans' view of the rivalry often relies more on emotional bias than objectivity.

At one point in the film, a Duke fan proclaims Christian Laettner to be the greatest college basketball athlete in history. Such an outlandish statement would be debatable even for those players involved in the rivalry itself, but is downright laughable when viewed in a national context with such players as Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.

In other words, by leaning too heavily on the fans for perspective on this rivalry, credibility at times is undermined.

To be fair though, much of the interview footage also involves players and coaches, and there are some outstanding game highlights as well, ranging from Larry Brown's infamous brawl with fellow Long Island prep star Art Heyman, to Tyler Hansbrough's bloody nose.

But it is precisely during these moments where a viewer might prefer to hear more from the game's participants than from a fellow fan with no more expertise than the viewer herself. After all, most basketball lovers are familiar with the emotions of vicariously living and dying with their team, but there are far fewer hoop junkies who have experience playing at an elite Division I university.

Still, for the most part, the film works.  More importantly, it provides one surprising, common sense insight into the nature of any rivalry, particularly this one -- that the Blue Bloods ultimately are interconnected and need of one another in order to truly appreciate and love their own team.

News and Notes

  • This year's rivalry game, originally set for Wednesday, February 12, 2014, has been postponed due to bad weather to February 20, 2014.
  • Author Art Chansky stated during the premiere  that the rivalry really started in the 1960's with the Brown-Heyman brawl, which put basketball front and center over football for both universities.  
  • Chansky also stated that he thought the best Carolina team he ever saw was the '84 team of Kenny Smith, Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Matt Daugherty, and Brad Daugherty.  More so than the '82 James Worthy-led team that won the title. 

By Mike Elliott
Editor for The Daily Sports Herald

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