Monday, February 23, 2009

Run, Dummy!

Here are some random thoughts on watching Bull Durham, which is simply the best baseball movie ever made, and maybe the best sports movie ever made too. (Addendum: I actually wrote this post a long time ago, during my three-month hiatus from blogging. I'm only getting round to putting it up now.)

:: Little touch that I love: the manager of the Bulls has his speech for giving a player his release down pat, not just the words, but the way he says them. "This is the toughest job that a manager has. [Long pause]...BUT...the organization wants to make a change." In a job where he has to give that speech however many times each season, and where every time he does he's likely crushing some guy's dreams forever, having it rehearsed to the point where he says it the exact same way each time is probably the only way he can get through that part of his job at all.

:: Are the any sets in this movie? There isn't a single location, inside or outside, that doesn't look one hundred percent real. Not one second of Bull Durham looks like artifice for the screen. The best location, though, is the Bulls' locker room, with its peeling paint, its ancient archways, its bank of beat-up clothes washers, its manager's office with fridge stocked with beer and little slips of paper all over the bulletin board.

:: Interesting that Crash and Annie can't consummate their long-simmering attraction until the moment he is no longer a ballplayer (temporarily), and that they can't become a couple until his ballplaying days are done entirely.

:: The best line in the movie? Annie, on Nuke LaLoosh's prospects for a fine major league career: "The world is made for people who are not cursed with self-awareness."

:: A lot of people read in Bull Durham. I love this: people are always sitting around, reading. The players, the spectators, the coaching staff of the Durham Bulls: they're always reading. This isn't just an attempt to make everybody look smarter; baseball's a game that includes long stretches of boredom which are tailor-made for reading.

:: How many sports movies have to do with the championship, or winning, in some way? Bull Durham has nothing to do with winning, at all. We're only vaguely aware of the team's success, or lack thereof, during the whole thing. They start out crappy, and they have one good month we know about, but what happens then? We're never told, and that's because winning or losing isn't the point, at all. It's all about the season, and the streak, and the career.

:: The other best line in the movie: "Why's he always callin' me 'Meat'? I'm the one drivin' the Porsche."

:: My favorite baseball moment in the movie: "What are you doin'? I give you a gift, and you stand here, showin' up my pitcher?! Run, dummy!"

:: I like how Crash takes Annie and her theories about baseball seriously, because he's got his own theories about the game that he's thought about for about as long as she does. For every speech she has in which she talks about how "baseball is the only religion that truly feeds the soul", Crash has one where he opines that "Strikeouts are fascist; ground balls are democratic."

:: A little detail that I never noticed before: there's an early scene where Crash, having met Nuke the night before, chews him out because his shower shoes have fungus growing on them:

Your shower shoes have fungus growing on them. You'll never make it to The Show if you've got fungus growing on your shower shoes. Think classy, you'll be classy. When you win twenty in The Show, you can let the fungus grow back all over your shower shoes and the press will think you're colorful. Until you win twenty in The Show, however, it means you're a slob.

So, at the end of the movie when Crash is giving Nuke his last bit of wisdom before Nuke leaves for his major-league call-up, as Nuke is packing his locker, we get a glimpse of Nuke's shower shoes: his pristine white, spotless shower shoes. Great movies get their details right.

:: Great movies also don't beat you over the head with their details. Those pristine, white shower shoes? There is no closeup on them, no moment where Nuke says "Hey, at least I learned to keep my shower shoes clean." He's just packing up his stuff, and in the course of conversing with Crash, one moment the shower shoes are in his hand, and the next they're in his duffel bag.

:: I've come to really love movies – stories in general, really, be they movies, novels, short stories, whatever – that don't so much end as suggest that the lives of the people we've been watching will go on with their lives as we look away. Did Nuke have a good major league career? Did Crash make it to The Show as a manager? I like to think that the latter was more likely than the former, but maybe not, or maybe both. What I really like to think is that Crash makes it to The Show as a manager after years of managing in the minors, and that he hires the just-retired Nuke as his pitching coach. Or something like that.

:: It's everybody's favorite scene, but actually, my least favorite part of the film is Crash's "I believe" speech in Annie's living room. That's the one thing in this movie that feels fake, the one moment that feels like a movie script and not the real life of baseball people and their fans. (And yet, it's such a terrific moment, isn't it?)

:: Annie's final voiceover is one of the best closing lines for a movie, ever: "Walt Whitman wrote, 'I see great things in baseball. It's our game, the American game. It will repair our souls and be a blessing to us.' You can look it up!"

What a great movie. Run, dummy!


Roger Owen Green said...

Excellent movie.

Apropos of not much, the use of the word "dummy" reminds me of Joy on My Name Is Earl.

Geoff Valentine said...

Are you a Richard Russo fan? The stories of his that I've read (I'm mostly thinking of Nobody's Fool, an excellent book that was made into a fine movie) are like that - suggesting that his characters' lives move on - that they live, I suppose, in a state of flux, where for a time, we get to get to know them. The endings are like those bittersweet farewells in life (graduating, a new job) where you know things will never really be the same and you may never see the people you grew close to again.

I've never seen Bull Durham. I'll have to give it a look.

wordnerd (Rebecca Carey Rohan) said...

OMG, one of my favorite all-time movies, also, and you quoted one of my favorite lines. :-)
("What are you doin'? I give you a gift, and you stand here, showin' up my pitcher?! Run, dummy!")

The "I believe" scene isn't my favorite, either. The timing goes off, just for a minute there. And I actually hate the first sex scene with Annie and Crash. That almost feels like it was added later, or someone said, "Oh, it's Kevin Costner, we've got to put in this hot sex scene to appease the ladies." The movie almost bogs down there, but they redeem themselves later when Annie and Crash are in her kitchen the next morning, and he's eating Wheaties. She makes a comment ("Wanna dance?"), he throws his bowl into the sink, grabs her and throws her down on the table ("Yes") -- what cracks me up about that scene is that he still has Wheaties in his mouth when he goes for it. :-D

Anonymous said...

I love this movie, and I'm speaking as someone who doesn't care one tiny little whit about sports of any kind.

One of the many, many things I like about it is that it's a love letter to baseball, and yet it isn't really about baseball; it's about people who all love something bigger than themselves. In this case, it's the game, but it could just as easily be a band or science fiction or any other thing that attracts enthusiasts. That's something a non-sports person can identify with.

And it helps that these characters are so damn lovable. And that Susan Sarandon is just plain yummy...

Mimi said...

We recently rented it again as we'd been talking about it, and so many of your points are so true (although I'd rank Field of Dreams somewhere up there in the pantheon of sports movies)

And, I agree, any movie where reading is integral is one of my favorites.

Anonymous said...

When Kevin Costner says that last sentence, my heart stops. The attraction, the heat. MMmmmmmm.

Not sure it's my favorite there are so many good moments, but it is my favorite heartstopping wanting line...

Love that you posted this, I'm sure you saw my status update the other day. :)