American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
There is a point in ''Hoop Dreams'' where the story, about two inner-city kids who dream of playing pro basketball, comes to a standstill while the mother of one of them addresses herself directly to the camera.
''Do you all wonder sometime how I am living?'' asks Sheila Agee. ''How my children survive, and how they're living? It's enough to really make people want to go out there and just lash out and hurt somebody.''
Yes, we have wondered. Her family is living on $268 a month in aid; when her son Arthur turned 18, his $100 payment was cut off, although he was still in high school. Their gas and electricity have been turned off in the winter. The family uses a camp lantern for light.
Arthur cannot graduate from Marshall, his Chicago high school, without transfer credits from St. Joseph's in suburban Westchester--the suburban school that recruited him, dropped him, and won't release the transcripts until $1,300 in back tuition is paid. Since this debt would not exist if scouts had not found Arthur on a playground and offered him a scholarship, there is irony there. The rich school reaches into the city, not to help worthy students, but to find good basketball players. If they don't make the grade, they're thrown back in the pond. But then it's payback time. Arthur becomes a star at Marshall and helps them finish third in the state. St. Joseph's is eliminated earlier in the playoffs. And William Gates, the other kid who, as an eighth-grader, was recruited by the school, has missed months of playing time because of injuries. When Arthur plays in the state semifinals at the University of Illinois, both Gates and his coach, Gene Pingatore, have to sit in the crowd.