"I Row Crew" — Rowing in 'The Social Network'



Like many of the rowing faithful, I've been keeping up with the saga penned by Dan Boyne about the filming of the rowing scenes in David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network, and I must say I had high hopes going into the film. The first problem I encountered: the phrase, "I row crew." It was uttered so many times before anyone "rowed crew" on the water that I had trouble buying any of it later. It's understandable that the character of Mark Zuckerberg makes that mistake, since he has no idea about the sport. But when the Winklevoss twins themselves utter the phrase several times, one begins to wonder where Boyne was when these lines were not being chopped or changed. Seriously, who says that?

As far as the actual rowing goes, the first scene, which has the twins out training in a pair along with the rest of the Harvard squad, is not all bad. It just ends that way. The line, "Those guys are freakin' fast" is certainly every bit as cringe-worthy as Boyne indicated, and it's followed by a sudden, dramatic increase in stroke-rating by the Winklevi, which lasts until they are off camera (it's almost as if they too are embarrassed).

The heart of the matter is the Henley scene, where Harvard is pitted against the Dutch in a reenactment of the final of the Grand Challenge Cup in 2004. The rowing is not terrible, and they shot this scene at the actual venue during the HRR in 2009, so no complaints there. The trouble is, it is shot with an edge-blur, and in slow motion. The slow-motion is supposed to disguise the fact that the two crews are at impossibly low stroke-rates coming through the enclosures, and, coupled with the edge-blur (which makes the rate of motion of the environs -- close-to-normal -- less obvious), it almost works. To a rower's eye, however, it looks like they are doing a piece at a 22 in the Henley Final. Also, it's paired with close-ups of the Dutch making 'pain faces' and looking nervously over at the competition -- they are ever-so-scared of those dynamic Harvard boys!

The outcome, of course, follows history. However, the half-a-length loss is subsequently discussed as one of the closest races ever. Really? What about the Boat Race from 2003 (which takes place on the Thames and covers just over 4 miles), which came down to 1 foot? I suppose it's just a bit of fluff to make the twins look good in losing (actually, much of the movie is that way).

I know that the amount of people who actually know anything about the sport makes up quite a small percentage of the population, so ultimately, it's up to the Hollywood execs, who know what sells to the everyday moviegoer. However, given the amount of hype this movie has gotten in the rowing community, I expected more rowing than most people would be interested in seeing, and more accuracy (if not in the rowing itself, then at least in the dialogue about it). Still, it's probably the most accurate depiction of rowing in a major motion picture to date, and for that, Boyne and the gang are to be commended. And hey -- at the very least, it's better than Take That's new video, featuring a 'quintuple.'

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