Bingo! The Documentary by John Jeffcoat

In 1999, filmmaker John Jeffcoat released a documentary that examined the history of bingo and its influence in the US and the UK. Variety’s review of Bingo! The Documentary described it as very intriguing, because it explored the underground world of bingo with relative simplicity. It revealed the existence of a subculture of eccentric yet tightly-knit people, and how the game found its way into interesting places such as churches and community centres.

According to the documentary, the earliest form of bingo came from Italy. The Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia, a popular Italian lottery, was established in 1530 and was held at weekly intervals. The lotto then spread in some parts of Europe, particularly France and Germany. During The Great Depression, a certain Edwin Lowe came across a variation of the lotto called the Beano at a country carnival. He noticed how much of a crowd pleaser the game was, and Lowe went on to adopt the game, renamed it bingo, and created a standardised version, which then went on to become the basis of many other modern bingo games.

During the period the documentary was shot, bingo had already found a home in some the unlikeliest of places. Aside from churches and community centres, the film also explored Seattle’s Gay Bingo and a New York bar where people play the game for drinks. After watching the film, writer Andy Spletzer mused on how the bingo parlour was a world unto itself, noting that it was a place people go to play games and socialise. While the game had attracted people from different facets of society, Spletzer mentioned that in those days, the stereotypical player would be an elderly woman or a welfare recipient.

However, that notion has changed over the decades, as bingo evolved and got modified to cater to a more modern audience. Nowadays, all kinds of people play the game, which is why it’s now hard to paint a picture of a typical player. For instance, Liverpool Echo reported on how bingo in the UK has also been adapted into a huge rave party, where people dance and play the game at the same time. Revellers win unconventional prizes, which raise the stakes in a unique manner. But while this particular bingo party may be an extreme example, the modern version of bingo has a similar appeal.

Because of the Internet, new bingo communities have popped up just about anywhere. Through a series of clips, Foxy Television shows a glimpse of how people usually play bingo today. Emphasis is placed on accessibility brought about by technology, which now allows players to join the fun from literally everywhere, such as a coffee shop or even in your own bathroom. The old subculture that the documentary featured is still around, although a much wider community can now be found online through social networking. In hindsight, bingo halls are still alive and well, and are still places for people to make friends and play. The only difference is that many of these places now exist digitally.

To sum everything up, Bingo! The Documentary is a good source material to look over when one wants to study how bingo created a distinct culture around it. Recreational trends come and go, but the game still manages to remain popular, even after all these years.

By Elaine D’Souza

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