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Tag Archive: W.P. Kinsella


Review by C.J. Bunce

This weekend one of the greatest American film classics celebrated its 30th anniversary across the U.S.  Thirty years later and Phil Alden Robinson′s Field of Dreams still holds up.  But thirty years is a long time, and my umpteenth viewing for Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies theatrical release for Father’s Day netted even more new thoughts about one of my all-time favorite movies.  I can’t think of a better Father’s Day movie, but if you missed it in the theater this weekend, you have one more day and two showings to catch it before it goes back in the vaults until its next anniversary.  Find out more about tomorrow’s two screenings and find your local participating theater at the Fathom Events website for the anniversary event here.  TCM host Ben Mankiewicz adds some film trivia before and after the screening–he’s a great host for these anniversary events.

Not even two minutes pass before Kevin Costner′s Ray Kinsella hears the ghostly words from afar that set the story into motion: If you build it, he will come.  From there, Robinson’s tightly written, major re-work of the W.P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe is non-stop magic (check out my retro review of the novel here at borg earlier this year where I compare it to the film).  It’s accompanied by James Horner′s sweeping, emotional score that will jerk you around from ghost story surprise to epic cross-country adventure and back to quiet, pastoral personal drama.  You can go back and scratch your head over the actual films that won Academy Awards over Field of Dreams for 1989–it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score.  You’ll find Field of Dreams is the only film that stuck with audiences three decades later, airing almost weekly now on cable channels, confirming its place in the Library of Congress’s film recognition and at the top of the American Film Institute’s rankings more than once.

It’s the rare film like Field of Dreams that begs for there to be an Academy Award for best casting.  Margery Simkin, the casting director for films from Beverly Hills Cop to Top Gun to Star Trek Discovery deserves a salute for getting every role just right.  Kevin Costner never veers from pure immersion into this new farmer wanting to follow his gut instincts.  Amy Madigan plays the perfect supportive partner and wife to Ray.  Gaby Hoffman is smart for her age as Ray’s daughter and a true credit to the film.  Director/writer Phil Alden Robinson should share in the brilliant updating the novel character from real-life J.D. Salinger to the fictional Terence Mann–audiences know James Earl Jones so well from Star Wars, yet here we get the benefit of his powerfully emotional eyes and that broad smile and laugh.  I always look forward to Ray Liotta′s steely stare, his knowing calmness, and his snarky laugh-out-loud dismissal of Ty Cobb.  Keeping with the novel and my take from past viewings, Archie Graham brings the magic home as the crucial piece of the puzzle driving the story to its end, played young and eager in a 1920s mindset by the great Frank Whaley and in his later years as a wise small-town doctor by film legend Burt Lancaster.  The quaint beauty of Dubuque, Iowa, made for the perfect backdrop to film Graham’s hometown of Chisholm, Minnesota, for these scenes.

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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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