Features & Columns

The Rugby Player

'The Rugby Player' tells of the life of local 9/11 hero
TOUGH ENOUGH: As a 9/11 hero, Mark Bingham, seen here after a high school rugby match, began to change stereotypes of gay men.

IT'S NOT easy to watch The Rugby Player with clear eyes, especially when viewing the lonely monument at Shanksville, Penn. as it was in the early days—a draped cross standing next to a chain-link fence on which odds and ends, baseball caps and license plates, hung rattling in the winter wind.

Los Gatos' Mark Bingham (1970-2001) and his mother Alice Hoagland were the kind of people the demagogues hate so much: they were homeless for a short time, and she was a single parent, and he was gay. The courage Bingham demonstrated on 9/11 aboard Flight 93 might be considered the fact that mattered.

And what matters in Scott Gracheff's stirring documentary—a highlight of this year's Cinequest—is how Bingham was brave to the point of foolhardiness, tackling a gun-wielding thief in the Castro, and playing the injurious sport of rugby for most of his life. Bingham was captain of the Los Gatos High Wildcats, and later he played for the national champion team at Berkeley.

At Cal, Bingham was a classic frat-rat—a prankster jailed for tackling the Stanford Tree during the 1992 Big Game. Coming out as gay in such a uber-male milieu must have been as frightening as anything he ever did. Interviewees include Bingham's partner for six-and-a-half years, Paul Holm, who describes Mark as "a human Labrador Retriever"—though Bingham was also smart enough to have made a good living in PR for high tech during the dot-com years. Talking-headsy at times, though the arc of Mark's life is documented with a great deal of home movies: we watch and see how this good-humored, mullet-headed valley kid became a hero of his nation.

80 min. Thu, 3/6, 6:45pm (C12); Sat, 3/8, 12:30pm California Theatre; Sat, 3/15, 4:45pm California Theatre