Showing posts with label polarization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label polarization. Show all posts

Thursday, March 26, 2020

bats left (no, right), throws right (no, left)

My work is rarely to-the-minute, and I rarely consider when a piece will be read.  I started this post long before Covid-19 and the consequent postponing of the baseball season.  If it doesn't elevate, nor replace peanuts and Cracker Jack, it is, I hope, of interest.         
Over the winter, news of an actual MLB game to be played at the location for 1989's Field of Dreams (left) summoned one of the all-time film flubs: Shoeless Joe Jackson hitting right-handed.  Ray Liotta, playing Jackson, failed badly to hit left-handed despite pro coaches on set (per this New York Post interview).  Finally, Liotta was given permission to switch sides.  It doesn't explain why the filmmakers didn't prioritize accuracy from the start.

The 1919 White Sox added disgrace to poverty when they threw the World Series.  70 years on, the "Black Sox" were in the zeitgeist: 1988's Eight Men Out had D.B. Sweeney as Jackson.  According to MLB Radio's Ryan Spilborghs (in a special devoted to Bull Durham), the athletic motions in Eight Men Out are "terrible."  Even so, that Joe Jackson hit lefty, at least.  Filmmaking is tough, but faking a base hit is still easier than the real skill (hitting a round ball with a round bat).  Faking is Hollywood's job.

Shoeless Joe Jackson

It's not that Ray Liotta was perfect casting otherwise: he doesn't look or sound like Jackson, who was from South Carolina.  (Actually, Jackson looked more like top-billed Kevin Costner.)  The production makes matters worse in the field: Jackson threw right-handed, but Liotta's Jackson throws left-handed (again, the actor's preference).  Effectively, the switch draws the attention of anyone still oblivious.  (Field of Dreams also flips Moonlight Graham left to right as a batter, as the redemption-mad narrative grants a sympathetic washout his first big-league at-bat.)

Liotta as Jackson
Thus, we've had non-answers regarding Field of Dreams and its Bizarro World Joe Jackson.  As with Marco Rubio's awkward lunge (addressed here), the baseball flick's "epic fail" may be rooted in polarization trauma.

If so, the filmmakers added their own reason for anxiety.  Their message is memorably spoken by James Earl Jones (as author Terence Mann):
The one constant through all the years ... has been baseball.  America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again.  But baseball -- has marked the time.  This field, this game ... (is) a reminder of all that's good, and could be again.  
Fans can only forgive the script's worst sabotage: the school-auditorium meeting.  All the parents arguing for exclusion of Mann's indecorous book (from the school library) fit the Hollywood-and-Left stereotype: they're ignorant, resentful, repressed.  As Annie Kinsella, Amy Madigan warns them not to be like "the Nazis."  Just as young Ray (Costner) insulted his father (who died before Ray could apologize), the film picks a side from which to decry division.

Even with this regrettable scene, Field of Dreams delivered a plea for unity.  It went unheeded, but we should have self-mercy.  Polarization, I've come to believe, is part of the normal operation of the United States.  The owner of a high performance car should expect road noise and greater maintenance; a nation based in diversity, democracy and ambition is comparable.  (Reading on 3/27, this is ~trite.  But who makes it so?)

If we get twitchy around moves left and right, we need the distraction.  The existential unknown may be displaced to a Jack Nicholson movie: "what if this is as good as it gets?"  How would we ever react, to the honest conviction all our American plans are good for a laugh.

This blog doesn't feature comments, but I very much appreciate your reading.  

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Pharaoh's Army (1995) 3 stars of 4

Here's a modest, neglected gem, evoking the historical films of John Sayles as it dramatizes a minor, telling incident from the U.S. Civil War.  It's rather stately (excuse the pun), but worth seeing, as U.S. history and for the ravishing beauty of the Appalachian forest (thus evoking the Jesse James subgenre, including The Long Riders and The Return of Frank James).  It's the best-known film of Southerner Robby Henson (he wrote-directed 2002's The Badge, with Billy Bob Thornton and Patricia Arquette).

Pharaoh's Army: war violates the Southern interior
Advancing through Kentucky hollows, Captain John Abston (Chris Cooper) leads his Union troop on the farm of Sarah Anders (Patricia Clarkson) and son.  With Sarah's husband away fighting for the South, the Yankees help themselves to livestock and provisions.

One of the-boys-in-blue has a fateful fall from a hayloft.  His recuperation means an extended break for the rest, who have yet to "see the elephant" (or in today's military slang, "get some").  Rodie, restless Northerner who's lost a brother to the war, will accuse Abston of cowardice and "just wanting a poke."  The latter can only be true (Patricia Clarkson), but Abston's no coward, just old enough to know war is a mess left by sleeping Senators and not worth getting shot over.

Appalachia was border country (West Virginia exists because the Virginia mountains went Union).  Brother-against-brother was nowhere more common than in Kentucky and Tennessee, where bitter loyalties alternated town to town, man to man.  Here, Kris Kristofferson is a South-leaning neighbor who, hearing of the Union incursion, sends his slave to snipe.  Completing a sketched culture clash, the Yankees mock the patrician not doing his own fighting; Kristofferson ignores them (he also speaks the title phrase, referring to the Union Army).  The intransigents acquainted, tragedy unfolds, as regional rivalry leaps generations.

In addition to the excellent cast and cinematic setting, the film has a mournful (and presumably authentic) score.  Among recent films peripheral to the Civil War, Pharaoh's Army is superior to the rather stilted The World Made Straight (2015), and nearly as attractive as the large-canvas Seraphim Falls (2006).

A late, Leftist article-of-faith insists America's Civil War was fought over slavery, after all.  Some desire a flattering national history, but the truth hurts: the War Between the States decided regional dominance of a growing imperium.  Slavery was the flashpoint, at most.

If slavery caused the war, surely, it begins with John Brown's martyrdom (as he intended), not waiting 1½ years for Fort Sumter.  (Even today, Brown's the hero of radicals, not Americans per se.)  Most white Northerners did not care about slavery (any more than the recruits of 2001 could find Afghanistan on a map), as they assumed blacks inherently inferior.  Having a moral investment in African-Americans, surely, they didn't abandon them 12 years later, as7th Cav mass-suicide rationalized a culturally-bonding, consensus slaughter, and as Reconstruction reconfigured to Jim Crow reign of terror.

The progressive British, having banned slavery in 1834, were nevertheless poised to support the Confederacy, given reasonable encouragement, especially at (northern battles) Gettysburg or Antietem.  (To my way of thinking, the South couldn't afford to win either, thus at Antietem, a runner lost Lee's-orders-'round-3-cigars, i.e., "hey, here's a gift!")  Such a bellwether would only have meant immediate mobilization for the North's full, vastly superior population, and General Lee has an (even earlier) date at Appomatox Courthouse.