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A Billiards Education in Movies. ~ Jason A. Moss

When many people think about billiards, they are really thinking about pool (also known as pool billiards or pocket billiards).

Specifically they think of one of the numerous variations of pool, such as eight-ball, nine-ball, straight pool, or one pocket, that are played on a 6-pocket table of 7-, 8-, or 9-foot length.

A simple Google search verifies this billiards bias. A search for “8-ball” and “9-ball” yields 909 million and 870 million results, whereas a search for “snooker” yields 44 million, and a search for “carom” (as in carom billiards) yields less than 3 million results. And, if we start narrowing our search to some of the more regional variations of carom billiards, such as Balkline or Goriziana, there are less than a few hundred thousand search results.

Certainly, in North America, one reason people commonly equate billiards with pool is because pool is the only game they’ve played. According to research done 10 years ago by the Billiards Congress of America, about 90% of billiards players in the US primarily play pool; the rest play snooker or carom billiards. But, another reason for the global association between billiards and pool is because of popular culture. Conduct any informal survey in which you ask people to name “billiards movies” and the most common responses are The Hustler (1961) and The Color of Money (1986).

Ask billiards players and other common responses are Poolhall Junkies (2002), Shooting Gallery (2005), Turn the River (2007) and maybe

Stickmen (2001). Each of these films has its own merits, and some are much better movies than others, but a common link is they all feature variations of pool: The Hustler (straight pool), The Color of Money (9-ball), Poolhall Junkies (9-ball), Shooting Gallery (9-ball), Turn the River (one-pocket), Stickmen (8-ball).

Fortunately, there have been a handful of billiards movies that don’t focus on pool.

So, if you’re looking to expand your familiarity with some of the other cue sports, get your Netflix or Amazon Instant Video queue ready and read on. Snooker Snooker is a billiards game played on a 12’x6’ table using a cue and 22 snooker balls (one white cue ball, 15 red balls, and 6 balls of different colors and point values). The object of the game is to score more points than one’s opponent by potting the object balls in a predefined order. Red balls must be potted in order to attempt to pot one of the colored balls.

One of the most interesting movies to feature snooker is Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire, a 1987 film from the UK that revolves around a snooker showdown between a cockney named Billy Kid and a seven-time world snooker champion who wears clip-on fangs and relaxes in a coffin named Maxwell Reardon, aka the Green Baize Vampire. The two main protagonists are modeled on real-world legends Ray Reardon (whose nickname was “Dracula”) and Jimmy White, who battled it out in snooker championships in the early 1980s. The movie is actually a musical, composed by George Fenton, a 5-time Oscar-nominated composer, and includes the song “Snooker (So Much More Than Just a Game).”

If you liked The Rocky Horror Picture Show, you’ll enjoy this film based on its camp/cult value alone. But, even if musicals are not your thing, you’ll get a thrill out of watching the exceptional snooker playing, particularly in the final showdown.

Other snooker movies you might wish to check out include Legend of the Dragon (1991, Hong Kong), which actually features snooker champ Jimmy White, and Number One (1985, UK), a made-for- TV movie starring Bob Geldof and Alfred Molina. Three-Cushion Billiards Three-cushion billiards, one of the most popular and challenging cue sports in the world, consists of three balls and a pocketless pool table. The object of the game is to carom the cue ball off both object balls, but to make sure the cue ball hits the rail cushion at least three times before hitting the second object ball. A point is scored for each successful carom.

A humorous, tongue-and-cheek film that prominently features three-cushion billiards is Carambola (2003, Mexico). In this low-budget drama, shot entirely in one location, the character “El Vago,” having won a carom-billiards saloon from the character “El Mexicano,” must now figure out how to restore honor and popularity to the game of three-cushion billiards. A lot of mishaps occur, especially in his decision to recruit “El Perro” (the fabulous Diego Luna) as the manager, who feels three cushion billiards is an old man’s game. Amazing three-cushions shot are scattered throughout the movie, and there is a comedic skit in the beginning, in which El Vago attempts to make an instructional video about the rules and nuance of the sport.

Another movie you might wish to check out is Wandering Ginza Butterfly (1972, Japan), a “pinky violence” film in which an outlaw heroine tries to save a bar through a three-cushion billiards competition. Goriziana Goriziana (or 9-pins) is a form of carom billiards especially popular in Italy. Nine pins sit in the center of a pocketless table.

Two cue balls and a red ball are used. Each player attempts to hit the opponent’s ball and, from there, scores points by striking the red ball, or by making the opponent’s balls or the red ball knock over the pins. Play continues until someone reaches or surpasses a pre-set number of points.

The best way to visualize Goriziana is to watch the romantic comedy The Pool Hustlers (1983, Italy), also known by its Italian name Io, Chiara e lo scuro. The story focuses on Francesco, a skilled Goriziana player, who never plays for money. He challenges Scuro, the reigning Goriziana champion (played by real 9-pin billiard legend Marcello Lotti), for a “spiked cup of coffee” wager. When Francesco wins, his newfound confidence leads him to break his own no-betting rule, and he quickly falls into significant debt, losing his rematches to Scuro. This debt leads him to steal money, and ultimately, to compete in the International Single Set Goriziana Championship as a way to pay off his financial obligations, preserve his relationship with his girlfriend Chiara and avoid jail.

The Pool Hustlers was followed by a sequel Casablanca, Casablanca (1985, Italy), which continues Francesco’s love of Chiara and of Goriziana, and then much later by Il signor Quindicipalle (1998, Italy), which is also about 9-pins but with different characters.

So the next time you’re asked to think about billiards, consider the larger universe of exciting cue sports that exist. And, if we’re lucky, maybe there will be some billiards movies about Russian Pyramid or Balkline in the near future.

We could all use some more educating.

Jason Moss is an avid pool player and cinephile. He combines these two passions in his blog, 8 Ball on the Silver Screen, which is exclusively about the 130 billiards movies, shorts, web series, and television shows he has identified to date. His goal is to watch and review every one of them.

Photo: popturf/Flickr

Editor: Dana Gornall

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