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Tag Archive: Burt Lancaster


   

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s February, and for sports fans that can mean only one thing: Baseball is just around the corner.  Spring training is only a few weeks away, so why not get into the mindset for the game with a look back to a modern classic, W.P. Kinsella′s novel Shoeless Joe First published in 1982 and originally titled The Dream Field, Kinsella’s novel didn’t debut to overwhelming acclaim in the U.S., although it won the author the 1982 “Books in Canada First Novel Award.”  Kinsella had been writing about the Black Sox, the famous White Sox team that threw the World Series in 1919, and while attending the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop he decided to incorporate that event into a fantasy about Shoeless Joe Jackson returning to Iowa to play ball again.  The result is what you might call the Great American Novel of the 1980s, now with a legion of fans devoted to the story.  The novel includes two major character threads that were excised for the 1989 classic, Field of Dreams, a film that has been named to the Library of Congress as one of the greatest American films of all time, as well as included on two American Film Institute Top 100 lists, nominated for three others, and named the AFI #6 best fantasy film of all time.  The book and film are equally superb for different reasons.  The film is one of the finest attempts at magical realism on the silver screen, and the magic is at the core of the novel.  In the original Kinsella went further than the film, delving into why American love for baseball transcends other sports and pastimes, and he takes readers on an adventure into the intricacies of relationships and human nature.

Shoeless Joe follows Ray Kinsella, one of a set of twin brothers whose father died many years ago.  In their teens Ray’s brother Richard gets into an argument with his father and leaves home.  Ray gets married, settles in Iowa City and has a daughter named Karin.  He begins a life selling insurance, but one day he encounters an elderly man who starts talking baseball with him as he’s walking along the streets of Iowa City.  Ray learns that the man, named Eddie Scissons, is the oldest living Chicago Cubs player, and soon strikes up a friendship, ultimately leasing a farm the man can no longer work.  The next piece is familiar to moviegoers: Ray hears a voice from the corn, “If you build it he will come,” and understands it to mean he needs to build a left field for Shoeless Joe to return and play baseball again.  Ray levels the corn field, and Joe arrives.  Unlike the film, this happens over several months.  And there’s more: the voice directs Ray cryptically again, this time with the plea, “Ease his pain.”  Ray knows the message to mean he must go to find the reclusive The Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger and take him to a baseball game.  Kinsella, the author, used the living Salinger as a character, but the author didn’t want his name used so the role was altered to the fictional writer Terence Mann (played by James Earl Jones) for the film.  Research by the studio determined potential audiences of the time were no longer familiar with Salinger and the swap did not affect the film.

But Kinsella had reasons to use Salinger in his novel, as Salinger had used two characters with Kinsella’s last name in different works in real life, hence Kinsella’s real-life fascination with Salinger, and the use of Ray and Richard in Shoeless Joe Unlike the film, whose key points are getting Shoeless Joe, Archie Graham, the famous author, and Kinsella′s father to come to the field, the key point of Shoeless Joe is getting Joe to the field in the first part of the story, but the pinnacle is getting Salinger to reveal his love of baseball, to go into the field, to learn what really lies in The Great Beyond, and hopefully return with a new novel for his fans after the many years of not writing.  In reality Salinger stopped publishing, but he didn’t quit writing, all the way to his death in 2010.  This week his heirs announced for the first time they would be releasing several of Salinger’s unpublished works after 2020 and over the next 10 years.

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chris-pratt-moneyball

It’s that time of year again.  The 2016 World Series is now in full swing with the first game a sweep by the Cleveland Indians.  How will the Chicago Cubs fare in Game 2 tonight?  If you’re not in the baseball frame of mind yet, we have five of the all-time best baseball movies you can stream right now for free or for less than four dollars on Amazon Prime’s streaming service.  Most of these can also be rented on Netflix.  And let’s face it–everyone should own our fifth movie on the list.

Have you seen them already?  Then you know these great films can be watched over and over again.

Let’s start with a classic:  Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees from 1942.  The movie recounts the then-recent personal triumph and tragedy of what baseball as an American pastime has created over and over for more than a century: baseball players as American icons.  Pride of the Yankees shows the personal side of being a famous baseball player, and features real-life legends Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig, and Bill Dickey, all playing themselves on-screen.  Academy Award winners Teresa Wright and Walter Brennan co-star.  If you want to see classic baseball from a contemporary view, this is your movie.  Although the story is certainly bittersweet and a tear-jerker, it reflects baseball as more than just a game.

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The most recent movie on our list is Moneyball, from 2011, a modern classic we’ve already watched over and over.  Moneyball reveals the game as a modern business.  The conflict between playing the game as classically envisioned and the game as seen from an analytical angle is wrestled with from the real life mostly true story of the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane as he turned the team around in its 2002 season.
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