A Movie Review of John Jeffcoat’s Bingo! The Documentary

bingoBingo is a game for the masses. It is simple enough to play without studying any complicated rules and strategies. Though it might not possess the same prestige as cut-throat card games like poker, bingo has been insanely popular ever since its modern iteration was introduced in the early 20th century.

But still, the general image of bingo hasn’t been an exciting one, that’s for sure. This the main reason why Hollywood films about bingo are basically non-existent; whereas in poker, these kinds of movies are a dime a dozen (examples: The Cincinnati Kid, Rounders, Maverick, to name a few).

But in 1999, documentary filmmaker John Jeffcoat tried to educate the non-bingo playing masses on the allure of this simple game. Aptly titled “Bingo! The Documentary,” Jeffcoat made his film chock-full of educational material and anecdotes that revolve around the history of bingo, and the people who have made it an important part of their lives.
At first glance, the film has the makings of a great and informative documentary. There are interviews from premier academics and professors, plus several more from players who were (or still are) addicted to the game (this list includes former drug addicts, alcoholics, and elderly grandmas) . Jeffcoat also went out of his way to cover other novel variations of bingo. We see gay bingo (where the players were all members of the gay community playing for a charity event), bingo cruises, and bingo-themed merchandise. The film tries to cover some of the interesting aspects of bingo culture, and condense it into a documentary that is just a few minutes over an hour long.

But Bingo! The Documentary’s high ambition is its downfall. It covers a lot of interesting concepts, but never tries to explore any of these extensively. The potential for a groundbreaking bingo documentary is there, but it ultimately goes by unexplored.

For example, there is an interesting story about this unemployed drug addict and alcoholic who found redemption (and a job!) through bingo. Instead of delving into this great story, Jeffcoat chose to focus on the lives of senior citizens who use bingo as a social activity, as something that they do during their free time. While there really is nothing wrong with pursuing the senior citizen stories, it was given too much exposure in the documentary that it just further perpetuates bingo’s reputation as an old people’s game. And the fact that there is no set narrative that links the interviews of these elderly bingo players doesn’t help in making the film more coherent.

Despite these setbacks, Bingo! The Documentary is pretty much a well-made documentary. The first part, wherein the history of the game was elaborated, was particularly informative and well-researched. There are some excellent footage there, most notably the ones that were shot in London.

It is only a shame that bingo is not portrayed here as the exciting game that it is really are. Bingo! The Documentary is a good documentary, but it could have been better if it presented a new outlook or perspective that people haven’t heard of before.


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