Friday, February 1, 2013

Never Before No Longer: Bull Durham

I do not own the above image. For entertainment purposes only.  Copyright MGM.  All rights reserved.

                Every boy, including yours truly, grew up playing baseball.  From the ages of 5-12, I played T-Ball & then Little League.  How talented was I?  Well, let’s just say there is a reason I stopped playing at twelve and turned my attention to movies.  But one of those great memories I have is being 12 in the bottom of the sixth down a run with a runner on second & one out.  Under the lights, I swing at the first pitch I saw and laced it into center field.  Not a home run, but enough for a hit to record my first (and only) double of my baseball life.  The next batter, my brother, smacked grounder passed the first baseman and I came in to score.  Baseball, at that age – no matter how badly the teams are skewed – is sports in its most pure form.
                But it didn’t used to be that way.  Baseball, as a whole, was pure.  Baseball used to be played.  Baseball used to be king.  Then money reared its ugly head.  Money canceled the World Series.  Money became the motivation.  Money demanded that players’ performances be enhanced.  Baseball, for all the wrong reasons, became European football: the rich run the joint and the smaller teams just exist.
                Like I said, it didn’t always use to be that way.  BULL DURHAM shows baseball in its purest form: 1980’s minor league baseball.  The place is Durham, North Carolina and the team is the Durham Bulls.  The Bulls have their passionate fans but none more so than Annie (Susan Sarandon).  Annie is the parish president of the “Church of Baseball”.  Every year, she takes a different player “under her wing” and attempts to improve his game, with the added benefit of sex.  The two prospects: Ebby LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), a young, slightly erratic pitcher with sights on “The Show” and Crash Davis, an aging catcher who has spent most of his career in the minors; Annie chooses Ebby.  Ebby, now nicknamed “Nuke”, has a second mentor in Crash, who is responsible for showing “Nuke” the ropes of professional baseball, especially when it comes to how to act in “The Show”.  Will Nuke make “The Show”?  Can Crash get back to his former glory?  Can Annie & Crash co-exist?
                Luckily, none of those questions is really an issue.  What we get is a real treat.  BULL DURHAM has three real people in a grown up movie.  Not just characters, characters who could be people you or I could meet in a minor league baseball town.  Annie is a real fan of her team but not afraid to criticize but in a constructive way.  But she is also a woman who is alone but not completely lonely.  Nuke is unprepared & immature but he’s not stupid.  He knows what he has and what’s missing from his arsenal but he never is afraid of nor acts negatively towards change, just awkwardly reacts to certain tactics.  And Crash knows who he is & what he is in Durham for and does it.  It is only after he is no longer needed that he feels betrayed & angry.  But he doesn’t seek revenge.  Instead, he moves on.
                BULL DURHAM could not have been made today.  First, baseball, like I said above, has changed for the worse.  But most importantly, with how Hollywood runs today, nothing would fit together.  First, no studio on Earth would give a first-time director a medium-low budget with total creative control for a baseball movie that is about baseball as much as BOOGIE NIGHTS is about pornography (but I’ll get to that later).  Second, every cliché in the book would be thrown in by script doctors.  Annie & Crash would hate each other at first.  Crash & Nuke would turn on each other at the end of the second act.  The Durham Bulls would be a rag tag team, brought together around young Nuke, until he is sent to “The Show”.  The Bulls looked doomed until Crash rallies them just in time for “the big game”. 
Luckily, none of this happens.  Instead, we get a movie about three people at a real crossroads in each of their lives.  A movie about how you’re never too old to continue to grow up.  And on the outskirts, we get grown men and the joy they get from being together & playing a child’s game.  The same kind of joy I got as a youngster on the outfield grass or batters’ box.  The same joy I get every time the end credits roll on a great movie, like BULL DURHAM.


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