by Edward Dixon
“Is darts beautiful?” It’s certainly unlikely to be the first word you think if when you’re watching the sport, beloved of blokes who gather in their thousands in huge arenas to watch something than can barely be seen from a distance of more than ten feet.
This fun, entertaining and informative feature-length documentary explores the sport as a whole and why it’s beloved by many. The film focuses in particular on the run-up to the 2016 PDC world championship, setting up the rivalry between the sport’s two most talented players, Gary “The Flying Scotsman” Anderson and world number one Michael “Mighty Mike“ van Gerwen (the providence of these nicknames, whether self-assigned or bestowed upon entry to the PDC, is an issue frustratingly not covered in this film). While the perhaps hoped for narrative doesn’t quite play out regarding these two players at the championships, the story is a riveting and exciting one nonetheless.
While some may take issue with darts’ classification as a sport (the most successful figures in the game can hardly be described as athletic), it would be unreasonable to deny that what they do requires significant skill. Although co-director Daniel Mendelle concedes darts is essentially people standing “in the same position repeating the same action over and over again,” this is an overly modest and reductive reading of the game and not the view conveyed in the documentary as a whole. While it could hardly be described as physically exerting, darts requires a superhuman ability to perform under pressure. The oversized and bloated frames of most darts players might make you doubt their ability to perform under pressure in some aspects of life, but they can certainly do it standing behind the oche – and that’s what matters.
To the outsider, darts players could be assumed to be all one of a certain type of (invariably working-class) man. Your Uncle Dave who smokes too much, drinks too much, always says something a little un-PC at family events, but is charming and loveable all the same. While the documentary confirms most darts players fit this description, there’s actually a much broader range of character types within this category than you’d initially think. Generally, there’s the everymen – the blokish, two-back-and-sides and a packet of crisps kind of man, unfussy in their sartorial decisions and a little embarrassed by the pomp of kitsch of the darts arena. For this category, think Phil “The Power Taylor” and current PDC world darts champion Gary “The Fying Scotsman” Anderson. Then there’s the peacockers – namely Peter “Snakebite” Wright – the vain and extravagant showman with the figure of a snake painted onto the side of his head, whose signature hairstyles are done by his wife and can take two hours a day to perfect.
The players all have their own walk-on tracks, invariably riff-driven anthemic rock songs with a chorus easily sung along to with wordless, boozy terrace chants. This is something quite cleverly and admirably referred to as the film begins, as a novelty reworking of the early 2000s electronic house track Chase the Sun plays over the animated opening credits. This song is, rather bafflingly, the official darts theme tune, played at during all major calendar events. The funny thing is, as the documentary progresses, it’s actually quite difficult to stop yourself from joining in the collective nah-nah-nah-ing. This is, I imagine, one of the more primitively satisfying aspects of watching live darts and it becomes quite easy to see the appeal of the sport.
Yet there is also a beauty to darts. It has a purity and sincerity which, perhaps because of its distinctly unglamorous nature, it is unlikely to ever lose despite its increasing popularity on the world stage. While its competitors may not be much to look at, darts does have a distinct visual appeal and there is something oddly compelling about watching these beer-bellied titans lock horns in highly tense and entertaining matches. As one contributor says, “there’s nothing more beautiful than watching two monsters play the game.” Further to this, the documentary does a brilliant job of widening the conversation around darts, including an enlightening and highly entertaining scene detailing the immense brainpower required by darts referees (one of which is a former Countdown champion). From the sticky floors of the pub backroom to the boisterous crowds at events, House of Flying Arrows succeeds in trying to break down the snobbish rejection of darts while championing it as one of the last properly untouched domain of working class males, where men can be rowdy and can cheer and drink and boo and rant. Darts is a unique, highly entertaining and wildly popular sport bringing joy to many – and long may its success continue.
Cast: Gary Anderson, Michael Van Gerwen, Bob Anderson, Eric Bristow, Keith Deller, Bobby George, Rod Harrington
Directors: Daniel Harris, Daniel Mendelle
Runtime: 98 minutes
House of Flying Arrows is now available on digital download and
will be available on DVD from 14th November 2016.