Fox Searchlight Pictures
Fox Searchlight Pictures

18 Winning Facts About Bend It Like Beckham

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Five years before David Beckham moved across the Atlantic—and before anyone knew who Keira Knightley was—a low-budget movie about a Punjabi teenager living in Southall who wanted to play soccer became a bona fide international sensation.

Bend It Like Beckham was a surprise smash, earning more than $76.5 million against a $6 million budget. Although the film itself is British, both in its setting and its theme—dealing with immigrant integration in a country with a religious-like devotion to football (what we know as soccer)—it delighted critics and audiences worldwide with its quiet charm and optimism. On the fifteenth anniversary of its U.S. release, and one West End musical adaptation later, here are 18 winning facts about Bend It Like Beckham.

1. IN AMERICA, IT WAS ALMOST KNOWN AS MOVE IT LIKE MIA.

In 2002, studio executives at Fox Searchlight were concerned that Americans wouldn’t know who David Beckham was, and wouldn’t understand what it meant to “bend” a soccer ball. Fortunately they changed their minds before the film was released after writer-director Gurinder Chadha objected.

2. EVEN THOUGH IT'S NAMED FOR DAVID BECKHAM, THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY INSPIRED BY PLAYER IAN WRIGHT.

Chadha said that her initial idea to write a film about “the evolving concept of Britishness” came about when she saw an image of Ian Wright, a black player, wearing the Union Jack flag at the Euro 96 championship.

3. GURINDER CHADHA DIDN'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT SOCCER.

Chadha relied on her co-writers to fill in the blanks of what she didn't know, writing “jargon jargon football jargon,” instead of actual content, into the Beckham script.

4. BOTH PARMINDER NAGRA AND KEIRA KNIGHTLEY DID ALL OF THEIR OWN SOCCER PLAYING.

“I put them into three months solid football training and they had a coach and every day they would in and train," Chadha told blackfilm.com. "They worked really hard at it. Keira, who plays Jules, got concussions a few times. Parminder really damaged her toes and was too scared to [kick] the ball in case she broke one. They really had to go through the pain barrier like other athletes in order to excel. It’s only when I said, ‘We could always use doubles, don’t worry about it,' when the two of them said, ‘No way! We’re definitely going to go for it.’ And they did.”

5. KNIGHTLEY HAD SOME SERIOUS SKILLS.

According to Simon Clifford, the coach who trained the lead actresses to be believable footballers, by the end of training, Knightley "could do things some Premier League players can't do ... If I'd trained her from the age of 10 or 11, without a shadow of a doubt, Keira could have been a pro.”

It's particularly impressive considering Knightley's soccer experience had been fairly limited up until that point. “I was captain of the girls' team in primary school, but we never actually scored a goal,” Knightley told Interview Magazine. "We only kicked people.”

6. MOST OF THE HOUNSLOW HARRIERS WERE PROFESSIONAL PLAYERS.

While Nagra and Knightley were cast for their acting ability and learned how to play soccer for the role, the rest of their team, the Hounslow Harriers, was made up of professional players. “All the other girls in the film play for various London clubs except one, Shaznay Lewis. She’s part of the music band All Saints, which is really a popular band," Chadha said.

As it turns out, the actresses, pro players, and musician worked incredibly well together. "We literally had become a really solid team,” Nagra said. "We got so into it once that Gurinder stormed across the pitch, shouting, 'Cut! Cut! Have you forgotten this is a movie?'”

7. THE MOVIE LAUNCHED KNIGHTLEY'S CAREER.

Keira Knightley in Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Although she had already made several small television appearances and a brief appearance in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Bend It Like Beckham was Knightley’s breakout role. One year later, in 2013, she appeared in Love Actually and Pirates of the Caribbean, cementing her place as a Hollywood A-lister.

8. THE WOMEN'S UNITED SOCCER ASSOCIATION FOLDED ONE YEAR AFTER THE MOVIE'S RELEASE.

In the film, Jules encourages Jess to pursue her dream of playing soccer professionally, telling her that in America women can play with the WUSA. Although that was true at the time, the organization folded in 2003.

9. THE SCAR ON JESS'S LEG IS REAL, AND THE STORY BEHIND IT IS TRUE.

Parminder Nagra in Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nagra was worried that the scar on her leg would prevent her from getting a part in a film that required her to wear shorts for much of her character’s screen-time. Instead, Chadha wrote the scar into the script, lifting the story about an accident making beans on toast as an eight-year-old straight from Nagra’s life.

10. CHADHA WAS THE FIRST BRITISH ASIAN WOMAN TO EVER DIRECT A FEATURE LENGTH FILM.

After creating a 1989 documentary about the lives of young British Asians, Chadha made her feature directorial debut with Bhaji on the Beach, a film which went on to earn a BAFTA nomination for "Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film" in 1995. Eight years later, in 2003, Bend It Like Beckham was nominated for the same award.

11. IT WAS THE FIRST WESTERN FILM TO BE PUBLICLY SCREENED IN NORTH KOREA.

Kim Jong-il screened the girl-power flick at the Pyongyang Film Festival in 2004, where it was seen by 12,000 people. In 2010, Bend It Like Beckham became the first western-made film ever to be broadcast on television in the country, as an event marking 10 years of diplomatic ties between the U.K. and North Korea. The 112-minute film was edited down to just an hour long.

12. JESS'S JERSEY NUMBER IS SEVEN, WHICH IS THE NUMBER BECKHAM WORE FOR MANCHESTER UNITED.

Jules wears number nine, which is Mia Hamm's number. Both characters had the corresponding player’s poster hanging in their room.

13. JOE WASN'T SUPPOSED TO BE IRISH.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Parminder Nagra in Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Fox Searchlight Pictures

“He was originally English,” Jonathan Rhys Meyers told the Irish Examiner, “but I had to read with Parminder—who plays Jess—and during the screen test we did the scene where she complains that someone called her a Paki, and I just shouted back, ‘Listen, I’m f*cking Irish and what’s your problem?’ It made sense that the Irish being a minority in England as well, Joe would have an empathy with Jess on that level. And the director just loved that, so Irish he remained.”

14. JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS WAS ORIGINALLY EMBARRASSED BY THE FILM.

"I thought it was going to be terrible!" Rhys Meyers told Marie Claire. "For months and months and months, I refused to tell anybody that I'd been in a film called Bend It Like Beckham. Even in the beginning I was like, 'I don't want to do this.' But I spoke to my brother and he said, 'Do the film. Everybody's going to love this.' It's one of those girly, guilty-pleasure movies. It's on that shelf with Dirty Dancing, Footloose, and Beaches."

15. BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM WAS MADE INTO A WEST END MUSICAL IN MAY 2015.

The musical, which ran at London's Phoenix Theatre, was also written and directed by Chadha. It closed in March 5, 2016, when the original actors' contracts were up.

Chadha initially had serious doubts that Howard Goodall and Charles Hart, the men who composed and wrote the show's music, would be able to capture the heart of a story about female empowerment and the immigration experience. “I thought, how will these two middle-aged English blokes get on with this material?” Chadha told The Telegraph. “Then I met them and it was job done, marriage made in heaven. Both of them are a particular kind of Englishman that I really love and respect.”

16. THE FILM WAS HEAVILY INFLUENCED BY CHADHA'S FATHER.

In an interview with The Guardian, Chadha said that Bend It Like Beckham became something of a tribute to her father, who passed away before the film was edited.

"It had a profound effect on me. And it's sort of funny really; when he died, it was absolutely gut-wrenching ... but it was like that fantastic Powell and Pressburger film, A Matter of Life and Death; suddenly time stopped still and went into color. When he died, there was this real sense of loss and tragedy, but at the same time, there was a sense of appreciation. It made me very impatient with people who throw life away. It was an epiphany. And I didn't know this at the time, but when I was making Beckham, I was totally grieving. That's why that film is so emotional and so raw, especially the scenes with the dad. It's a film that was made in grief."

17. THE "BENDING" IN THE TITLE REFERS TO MORE THAN JUST A TYPE OF KICK.

Parminder Nagra in Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Chadha related the idea of “bending” a ball to the way women strive to achieve their goals in male-dominated industries. “We can see the goal, but we too, like David Beckham, need to approach it in such a way where we twist and turn and bend our way into it," she explained. "My film is about bending the rules to get what you want instead of breaking the rules.”

18. ACTUALLY BENDING A BALL RELIES ON THE MAGNUS EFFECT.

The Magnus effect is defined as “the force exerted on a rapidly spinning cylinder or sphere moving through air or another fluid in a direction at an angle to the axis of spin.” In other words, when a ball is spinning, it’s also causing the air around it to spin. If the ball is spinning and moving forward at the same time (in the case of a good soccer kick), the pressure difference from the air around the ball and the air rushing past it will cause a difference in pressure that will make the ball “bend,” or move in a curved path.

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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
West Side Story Is Returning to Theaters This Weekend
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM

As Chris Pratt and a gang of prehistoric creatures get ready to face off against some animated superheroes for this weekend’s box office dominance, an old rivalry is brewing once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. West Side Story—Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s classic big-screen rendering of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical—is returning to cinemas for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics Series, West Side Story will have special screening engagements at more than 600 theaters across the country on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, encores will screen at the same time on Wednesday, June 27. The film—which is being re-released courtesy of TCM, Fathom Events, Park Circus, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer—will be presented in its original widescreen format, and include its original mid-film intermission. (Though its 2.5-hour runtime is practically standard nowadays, that wasn’t the case a half-century ago.) The screening will include an introduction and some post-credit commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz.

West Side Story, which was named Best Picture of 1961, is a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that sees star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) navigate the challenges of immigration, racial tension, and inner-city life in mid-century Manhattan—but with lots of singing and dancing. In addition to being named Best Picture, the beloved film took home another nine Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively), and Best Music—obviously.

To find out if West Side Story is screening near you, and to purchase tickets, visit Fathom Events’s website.

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