Thursday, March 29, 2007

It seems every so often someone has to come out with a list ranking something. God forbid anything stand on its own. Everything has to be ranked and compared and contrasted. It helps writers of columns and magazine/web content editors fill up space on short notice with a minimum of effort. The list that is bothering me at the moment is Moviefone's list of the top 25 sports movies of all time.

Among my many problems with this list is that I don't really consider Jerry Maguire (ranked number 15) a sports movie. Yeah, the title character is an agent, and Cuba Gooding would go on to win Best Supporting Actor playing a character who is a wide receiver. And there are somewhere on the order of 1 million athletes who make cameo appearances. But the movie is only peripherally concerned with sports, and at that it comments on the crass commercial aspects of the sports industry. It's more about the agent's personal growth set against the backdrop of professional turmoil than about sports.

My real problem with this list is the film at number 3. It's Bull Durham. I hate to be the one who breaks this to the American sports fan, but that film sucks. Before you cough and splutter and stutter "S-s-s-s-s-sucks" like Judge Smails from the underrated (based on this list which placed it at number 6) Caddyshack, that's right. I said Bull Durham sucks. And it gets worse with age.

Every person who defends the movie feels compelled to dismiss the fact that a three year old girl could play a can't miss minor league pitching prospect more plausibly than Tim Robbins at some point in the conversation. Even worse is the name the writer bestowed on him. Nuke LaLoosh? Why not name him Douchebag, Total Tool, Fist Magnet or some other similar name?

Then there is the famous Kevin Costner speech. If you are a Baby Boomer looking back on your life and realizing that you've done nothing worth doing, and might just as well not have existed in the first place, then that speech about baseball and the small of a woman's back is right up there with now is the winter of our discontent. But if you can, in fact, while away the hours talking with the flowers (an elaborate way to say you have a brain), then the speech rings hollow as it should.

This piece in Salon described the movie as a "pastoral vision for hipsters". That is most likely correct, and it's also what's wrong with the movie. Nobody talks like Kevin Costner in that sequence. When do you ever get a chance to get across a 3 paragraph pick up line? If it's going to work, that probably means that you were in to begin with, and the odds of getting a woman to change her mind by lecturing her have to somewhere in the millions to one against range.

I'm not, thank God, the only person who hates Bull Durham. Bob Halloran, whose work in the Metro has been criticized in this blog, wrote this surprisingly amusing and insightful piece on the awfulness of Bull Durham a few years ago. I'll have to keep that in mind when baseball season starts in earnest and it's time to rip the Red Sox just about every day. Maybe I'll have to be nicer the next time I write about a piece Halloran writes for the Metro.

More than any of the other deficiencies of this film, it's the Costner speech, or more precisely the manner in which it's quoted, that irritates me about Bull Durham. The movie came along at a time in the 1980s when the white collar fan took over sports. This new type of fan was college educated and felt the need to prove it. But how do you prove you're smart without proving you're a nerd in the process? The answer...quote movies.

I'm aware of the fact that I quote movies all the time in this space. I think the difference between me quoting a wide array of movies and the people who quote Bull Durham is that I usually quote movies that aren't widely quoted (how many people do you know who quote Die Hard or Miller's Crossing or Kelly's Heroes?) and they're much better than Bull Durham. In his second essay on Rudyard Kipling, Orwell ripped the imperialist faction because they "set Kipling on a pedestal, and some of his more sententious poems, such as 'If,' were given almost Biblical status."

That's what these fans have done with Bull Durham. It's become the Bible for the 40+ year old washed up never-was when they talk about baseball. I don't believe in the hanging curve. I don't care when you open your damn Christmas presents. Baseball isn't a metaphor for life. Baseball isn't even a metaphor for for baseball. It's just a sport, and a half-assed hipster movie about it is no better than any other half-assed hipster movie from that time period.

The number two was a strange choice, or at least I thought so. It was Raging Bull. For some reason, I just don't think of Raging Bull as a sports movie. I think it was a great cinematic achievement. But whether it's the black and white cinematography or the fact that it seems more influenced by European films of the 50s and 60s than American sports movies or the fact that its production values are so different from the other movies on the list, I just don't think of Raging Bull as a boxing movie.

Rocky was the number one sports movie of all time, according to the list, and I have no problem with that. But when I discussed this topic with a friend of mine tonight, he pointed out that Rocky's non-boxing life, and, in particular, his relationship with Adrian take up much more of the movie than the fight with Creed. That is true, but that doesn't bother me as far as classifying Rocky as a sports movie is concerned (even though I objected to Jerry Maguire on the basis that it was much more about peripheral issues than it was about sports).

Above all, Rocky is about a guy who becomes something much more than he was when the story began. And in a sense, that's what all good sports movies are about the Bad News Bears (#18) become more than an island of misfit toys. Roy Hobbs (#5) goes from being a never-was to the best there ever was for a year. The Hickory Huskers (#4) go from hicktown losers to David killing Goliath. And so on.

Courting Adrian is a part of Rocky's transformation from two bit legbreaker and loser to the guy who inspires a nation. Their relationship parallels the fight with Creed. He starts off a little slow, but he keeps going until the end. Winning her heart is one of the things which elevate Rocky from that dockyard thug that tried to fight Gazzo's driver.


Alan said...

Costner is just awful, period. His strongest work in my opinion was in Dances with Wolves. But he ruined the Untouchables and pretty much everything else he's been in.

thecincinattikid said...

I thought he was good in the Untouchables. But then I didn't like Dances With Wolves. Like we needed a 4 hour movie to realize that Native Americans got a bad deal. But you're right about Costner, usually good movies with him in them tend to be good in spite of him. I love the fact that he goes around saying that he doesn't believe in doing sequels. Like somebody is beating down his door with a script for Waterworld 2, or the Postman 2.

Sheae said...

Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it's also a job.~
Annie Savoy

from Movie Bull Durham

thecincinattikid said...

Bull Durham sucks more today than it did when I wrote that post. No matter what the fleabag had to say about it being a job.