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Tag Archive: Iowa


   

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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Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the least discussed areas of television is local television–those productions going back to the beginning of television and still a fixture even of small markets around the United States.  Even big city networks and cable channels sprouted out of the success of local personalities or shows, as found in places like Chicago’s WGN, Kansas City 41, and Atlanta’s TBS.  For parts of four decades, if you lived or visited Iowa or the greater reach of its local NBC affiliate, you would have been introduced to The Floppy Show.  The Floppy Show was a creation of World War II veteran Duane Ellett, a young Drake University graduate who bridged a career as a voice over the air and then a familiar face in black and white in the late 1950s as television became widespread.   At the center of the show was Floppy, a wooden puppet with a red sweater with holding his trusty bone, who would come to be known by multiple generations of fans.  Floppy and Ellett are the subject of a new book by professor, broadcaster, and historian Jeff Stein, titled The Floppy Show.

Since Ellett’s death in the 1980s, Floppy, the famous dog in the box, was displayed at the State Historical Museum in Des Moines for 20 years, followed by a brief stint at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.  It’s a testament to Ellett and his creation that their beloved fans never wavered–these exhibits became hallowed ground, the kind of quiet spot to revisit one’s youth for a mix of reflection and nostalgia.  Of course The Floppy Show was only one of hundreds of similar shows that came and went across America over the decades, but author Stein showcases the history of an important area of television in this singular show.  Working with WHO-TV and the archives of Ellett’s family, Stein researched videotapes, film, marketing materials, and photographs and pulled out more than 180 images that reveal a changing America from 1957 to 1987.

At the same time Jim Henson and his Muppets were first introduced on a local Washington, DC show, Ellett was asked to create a puppet for the show Pet Corner, a local TV program hosted by the Animal Rescue League where viewers would meet local stray dogs and cats, and hopefully adopt them.  Floppy was created to help teach kids how to care for animals, in the vein of shows like the contemporary national programs Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood Floppy’s popularity took off and he soon had his own show at WHO-TV.  For most of its memorable years the show featured Floppy and Ellett introducing cartoon segments like Popeye and Looney Tunes, and the big deal for kids was the live studio segment where kids (including your humble editor minus 40 years or so) appeared on-air, beeping Floppy’s nose, telling jokes, and getting a sack with a bottle of Mountain Dew, a bag of Hyland potato chips, and a photo of Floppy.  My joke?  “What’s the biggest can in the world?”  Answer: “I forget.” Quietly prompted by the kindly moustached fellow in the leisure suit, I blurted out “Canada!”  Guest stars on the show visiting the local NBC affiliate included Adam West in full Batman garb.

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By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Both Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters premiered the same day.  Chasing Ghosts premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2007.  The King of Kong premiered at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival, taking place as well in Park City, Utah, but reserved for films with budgets under $1 million and only for first time directors.  Other movies at Sundance included Black Snake Moan, King of California, The Savages, Snow Angels, Eagle vs. Shark, Reprise, Waitress, Once and Rocket Science. The King of Kong, by my personal calculation*, is easily the biggest movie out of Slamdance that year.

Don’t mistake that I’m saying popularity equals quality or the film festival where your movie premieres means a difference in quality.  Still, Sundance, like Toronto and Cannes just seems to mean a higher pedigree, the difference between a regional dog show and the Westminster Kennel Club.

So, why is The King of Kong more popular than Chasing Ghosts?**  I think it is that same reason that made the video gamers of both stories so special: specialization.

I just finished Chasing Ghosts and it is fascinating.  Just like Confessions of a Superhero or Murderball or Grizzly Man or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room or Capturing the Friedmans, there’s something about true stories and the voyages in life that people take to get to today that make my eyes and heart open wide.***  Following the story behind the boys and older boys**** in a picture from a Life magazine photo shoot in 1982 on the main drag of Ottumwa, Iowa made me smile many times.

The classic Life Magazine photo from November 1982, taken in downtown Ottumwa, Iowa with the gamers and some Ottumwa High School cheerleaders. Billy Mitchell, featured in King of Kong, is third from right at front with the moustache and his hand on the Centipede game.

But, it’s no King of Kong Chasing Ghosts gave us glimpses of many different video game champions.  Boys that spent up to 60 some hours straight playing video games.*****  We learned about strategies (and saw some cool, modern 3-D images) for Pac Man, Berzerk, Centipede, Frogger and Missile Command.******  Each person had strategies and abilities that made these games easy for them.  Each person had a compelling life story.  The only names I remember though are Steve Sanders and Billy Mitchell and that’s because they were also in The King of Kong.*******

The King of Kong just looked at one game.  The King of Kong just looked at the rivalry for this one high score.  It followed Steve Wiebe as he tried to unseat Mitchell’s high score and what how much that meant for him at that time in his life.  It had a compelling narrative because it focused on one thing, kind of like these video game specialists.

Why do we love specialists?  Why do we put the most elite athletes, the most elite soldiers like Navy Seals, the most elite actors/directors/producers that win Oscars on pedestals, sometimes literally in the case of the Olympics or sports draft coverage?

I’d like to think this is some grand philosophical question, but it’s not.  We all want to be the best at something, so we celebrate those that become the best.  The richest man in the world.  The most beautiful woman in the universe.  The fastest.  The strongest.  The biggest weekend at the box office.  The smartest.  In recent years of baseball analysis and the Baseball Hall of Fame, most researchers (and conversely voters) show that emphasis every year.  The guys like Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell who were pretty good at everything–and therefore each a great player–aren’t nearly as appreciated as those that did one thing well, like hit for average, play defense, steal bases or hit a bucket load of home runs (though because of steroids, that isn’t as smiled upon as before).  Being the best wins, second place will always be a set of steak knives and third prize is you’re fired.

Capitalism expects us to specialize.  We do one thing well, and we trade the money we make from that to other people that do their one thing well.  So, did I like The King of Kong because I’ve been trained to like the specialized over the general?  I’d like to think that isn’t the case.  There’s room in the world for both movies, and I’m glad I saw both.  If you ask me which one I liked better in this case, it’s Kong.

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*Check out the list here. I’ll admit, films with James Cromwell, Tony Hale^, Ali Larter and Gary Busey feel like they should be bigger, emphasis on “feel” and nothing more.

**I’m basing this on the fact that I saw The King of Kong in a movie theater and watched it on TV over Thanksgiving this year.  I finally found Chasing Ghosts on Netflix Instant when a friend recently recommended it to me and it appeared in one of the lists that Netflix tailors to my watching patterns.  Netflix is like my best friend who always can tell what I’m in the mood to watch.  Except that Netflix is a cyborg, bent on taking over the world.

*** A note – in some cases the emotion from my “heart” is sympathy.  Sometimes it is appreciation.  Sometimes it is horror.  Films that generate feelings always rank high in my book, but the documentaries that evoke horror I’m much more likely to never, ever, ever watch again.  Like Capturing the Friedmans.

**** After watching the documentary, it feels weird to use “men” as their noun, even to this day.  Yes, they have kids, wives, girlfriends and jobs, but you look into those eyes as they talk about video games or other aspects of their lives, and the boy inside still takes center stage.

***** I loved the still picture of one video gamer being fed French fries as he played.  If this happened today in New York, he would have been video gaming’s Alex Rodriguez.

****** I have to admit to being a little more curious about the Missile Command guy.  It looks like he made video game themed pornos.  I can see that having major appeal.  I mean, how many guys would love the fantasy of sitting at home, playing video games, when all of the sudden, a knock comes at the door and there are three buxom women who want to pleasure you.  I’ve probably said too much.  Still in the argument of specialization, I want to see a movie about him.

******* Ok, maybe a slight lie.  I think I remember the name Ben Gold.  I also don’t remember the Twin Galaxies owner/ref names that appeared in both films.  It probably helps that I’ve seen The King of Kong twice.  Then again, it’s been almost four months since I watched it compared to about four hours for Chasing Ghosts.

^That’s the Arrested Development and Community  Season 1, episode 19 fan talking.  I’m going to go ahead and assume you know Ali Larter and not give her a footnote.  Why? She’s the most beautiful woman in the world.^^

Ali Larter in Heroes

^^World is defined as a section of my mind circa the first season of Heroes.

The famous planet with two suns was supposed to exist a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  In fact, a real-life Tatooine was discovered by scientists this year in our own galaxy, only 200 light years away.  That’s right, in our very own galaxy, which in relative terms, might as well be in our backyard.

Yeah, right, and pumpkins grow on trees.  (More on that later).

Luke Skywalker, and we would later learn, his daddy–the guy who would be Darth Vader–both grew up as farmboys, not in Iowa like Captain James T. Kirk, but on Tatooine, a desert planet with two suns “in a galaxy far, far away” according to the original Star Wars and its prequels.  Scientists on this planet revealed their findings yesterday in the September 16th issue of Science.   Using the Kepler space telescope, scientists found a giant planet in orbit around a pair of binary stars that make up what has been labeled the Kepler-16 system.  And it’s only 200 light years away.  Once scientists figure out a quicker way to travel in space, the planet called Kepler 16-b could be one of our first stops.

Quoted at space.com, Alan Boss at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, co-author of the study about the discovery, summed it up: “Once again, what used to be science fiction has turned into reality.”

When I was a kid, I remember a teacher saying it was impossible that a planet could have two suns.  I guess he was wrong.

Now we have proof that a planet can exist revolving around two suns.

Check out space.com’s coverage of this discovery for more info on the scientific detail of this planet.  The images above are artist renderings from the space.com website, and Luke looking at Tatooine’s twin suns daydreaming, and as Yoda said, not focusing on “where he was, what he was doing.”

And about those pumpkins…  And speaking of Iowa…

Last year on October 6, 2010, KCCI-TV, the CBS affiliate in Des Moines, reported photos of orange pumpkins growing from a tree in Des Moines.  Don’t believe it?  Check out this link to the un-doctored photos.

And what do you know, but it’s October again and KCCI-TV reported again yesterday about more pumpkins in trees, this time a bright green pumpkin hanging alongside pears in a pear tree in Greenfield, Iowa.  Check out the photos at KCCI’s website.

What actually is going on?  The summer of 2010 in Iowa was a big rain year and so was this year.  Pumpkin vines made it 12 feet up and higher into the trees.  Still, it’s pretty incredible and it must have been awesome to be the first person to see these.

These are so strange looking I think everyone should start planting pumpkin seeds next to their trees.  It could be the next new landscaping idea.  This and Tatooine in the same week?  A sign of the apocalypse?  Probably not.  But think what would have happened if Isaac Newton had a pumpkin fall on his head instead of that apple.  Maybe he would have been the one to discover a planet with two suns (or had a heck of a bump on his head).

And on your way to I-Con in Altoona today stop off in Greenfield and send us some photos of that pumpkin tree.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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