In the Alex Gibney documentary “Boom! Boom: The World vs. Boris Becker,” the then-active tennis player recalls a 1980s conversation with a tabloid newspaper editor who told him that only three subjects were guaranteed to get the German public’s attention: Adolf Hitler, German reunification and Boris Becker.
Released from prison in the U.K. in December, Becker turned up in person in Berlin on Sunday to attend a press conference. Once again he dominated the court. Quotable, self-deprecating and larger than life, Becker maintained the candor that was characteristic of the multiple interviews he gave to filmmaker Alex Gibney — himself a tennis player and Becker admirer.
“I’m a huge fan. I watched him during his tennis playing days and listened to his commentary on the BBC,” said Gibney. “The talent that Boris has, unlike many great athletes, is his ability as a storyteller. My opportunity to tell the story and [Becker’s] ability as a storyteller to tell his own story, that was hugely exciting to me.”
The film, presented at Berlin is already feature-length, but is the first part of a two-episode work that stops when Becker is at the height of his playing career. It ends abruptly, explaining that the seeds of Becker’s self-destruction have all been identified in the previous 100 minutes and the star’s trajectory is downhill from then on. It will air on Apple TV+.
At Sunday’s event — just as in the remarkable interviews he gave Gibney for “Boom! Boom!” — Becker was neither shy, nor evasive.
“I’m the last person to complain about my life. I’m 55 years old and I’m very proud of the things that I’ve done. But I’ve made mistakes,” Becker said. “It is very difficult to win Wimbledon at age 17. You have to be a bit crazy. Borderline. Crossing the line. Doing things that nobody has done before in order to achieve something nobody has achieved before. To have that mindset and live a normal lifestyle is almost impossible. And when the going gets tough I usually get better, I’m not afraid of a tie break, I’m not afraid of a final. But in real life that is a problem sometimes.
“I’ve paid a heavy price for some of the things I did in my past. Today I’m a bit better for it. Hopefully a bit smarter. Maybe a bit more humble.”
The film’s first series of interviews were conducted in 2019 when Gibney toured Wimbledon with Becker and gave the filmmaker a grand tour. “The pandemic intervened. We began to edit,” said Gibney.
The second interview was just two days before Boris was sentenced and taken to prison in 2022 over charges relating to his 2017 bankruptcy case. Becker is shown red-eyed, but still as hard-hitting as his famous serve.
“It was a very powerful and emotional interview. It caused me to reconsider the structure and essential elements of the film. Documentary is like a fiction film except you write the script at the end instead of the beginning,” Gibney shot.
“[It was] a time when I really didn’t know what the rest of my life would look like,” Becker volleyed.
Asked by a reporter to name his favorite movies, Becker named Sean Penn, Jack Nicolson, James Dean and Marlon Brando, actors rather than titles. “They are all a bit rebellious. I like them,” Becker said with a twinkle. “My life seems like a movie sometimes. Only it is real.”
Gibney kept the rally going. “We wanted to take [the story] out of the genteel world of the tennis club and put it in the dusty world of the gunslinger. So we used some of Ennio Morricone’s scores from Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns to give it that mano a mano vibe.”
Becker remains tabloid fodder — headlines on Sunday had his ex-wife calling him a “devil” — but the star was as cool as a Wimbledon cucumber sandwich. “It feels great to be free and at peace with myself. We all have to try to be our better selves.”
The series is a co-production between John Battsek’s Ventureland and Gibney’s Jigsaw Prods., from Lorton Entertainment.