The Birds was released in 1963 and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Three years before that he directed Psycho. A couple years before that he directed North by Northwest and Vertigo in consecutive years. Everyone knows this. These films are synonymous with not only the man but with Hollywood suspense. The movie business is always looking for a new Hitchcock; someone to scare and frighten us in new ways. Most new Hitchcocks know they’re following in the master’s footsteps. Boris Diaw, however, is different. He’s Hitchcock without knowing he’s Hitchcock.
“I’ve known Boris for years, since we were teenagers in France,” said Diaw’s San Antonio teammate Tony Parker, “and for the longest time, I didn’t even know he liked movies. I’ve never seen him watch one, especially an old one, so I have a really hard time believing he plagiarized a world famous director. I mean, that’s what you’re saying he did, right?”
One of Boris Diaw’s most ambitious films is called The Bats. The opening credits begin with the squeaks and screeches of furry insectivores leaving a cave. We do not see the creatures; we see only the words: San Antonio Studios. When the words leave the screen, we see the little beasts flying in scattered patterns across the screen. The effect is as alarming as it is captivating. Where are all these bats going to and coming from? The images are also quite familiar. The sounds grow more violent. Names appear and disappear in the foreground, as if they are being nibbled, or sucked, from existence.
“Wow! When I saw it, I just thought he was parodying Hitchcock,” exclaimed Matt Bonner. Then, he paused and, looking down, shook his head. “But he looked at me and said, ‘who’s Hitchcock?’”
In the final scene of The Bats, a sweaty Manu Ginobili escorts a bandaged Tony Parker through the foyer of an old house. When they look outside the house, the driveway is littered with all kinds of bats. They tiptoe through the creepiness and into a convertible. The bats continue to make low warbling sounds. When Diaw’s teammates drive away, the light breaking through the distant clouds is quite beautiful. The bats, however, really are everywhere. When asked about what inspired the scene, Diaw said, “I just wanted to create a metaphor for how those two have always picked through the defense and picked each other up. They’ve been through a lot. And a lot of people have wanted them dead, in a figurative sense.”
“He just told me he thought one bat wasn’t enough,” said Ginobili. “He told me he wanted more bats that anyone could count. I just said, ‘okay, it’s your movie,’ but in my head, I was like bats are too obvious—birds would be a real surprise. I think that made him mad.”
“This didn’t just happen with The Bats,” explained longtime Spurs player and fan David Robinson. “When Stephen Jackson was let go from the team, before the Playoffs, in the 2013 season, it wasn’t for basketball reasons. Well, not really. You see what happened was that Boris Diaw was making one of those things he makes—I guess you could call them movies. Anyway, I think this one was called Nutz, or maybe Mental, I’m not sure he ever figured out a name, but in the script he had Tiago Splitter being attacked in the showers by the film’s villain. And the villain was being played by Stephen. The team had to let Stephen go because after everyone watched even the unedited takes, it was just too scary having Stephen around. If he so much as calls me now, I get shivers and hang up the phone.”
While Diaw’s films remain highly effective in their own right, they also remain highly affected, as if they must rely on the structures of genre, or the fundamental styling of pure mimicry. And yet he really does appear to have never heard of Alfred Hitchcock, much less watched one of the genius’ films.
“Oh, we have him watch game film, and we have him watch his weight,” added Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich. “Between those two activities, I doubt he has the time to watch classic films. Also, if he really was going to steal the material, he’d have to be a damn fool to take so obviously, wouldn’t he? I mean even people who haven’t seen Psycho or The Birds know the plots of those movies. Why would he use the ones everyone knows? That just seems desperate.”
However, a walk through Boris Diaw’s early work reveals more subtle similarities with the Master of Suspense. While a member of the Phoenix Suns, Diaw managed to make two films. The first, titled A Seat from the Bench, stars Amar’e Stoudemire. The premise comes across as contrived, but involves Stoudemire’s character witnessing a murder during a basketball game, when his teammate Nash Stevenson is poisoned by Harry Roberts at the scorer’s table. The second film begins with Diaw in France and tracks him to Atlanta and then follows him through his days in Phoenix and then on to Charlotte and, finally, to his time in San Antonio. The camera’s work is unbroken, except for in a few spots, when the batteries in the camera died. Other than that, the film, which is Diaw’s most personal, is one continuous bounce pass, uncoiling, and unfurling, like a long, magical twine of rope. One keeps waiting to reach the rope’s end, but the end never arrives.
Bryan Harvey can be followed on Twitter @LawnChairBoys. Special thanks to Mike Langston for the image.