I watched a film I hadn't seen in a long time last night...The Natural, with Robert Redford. I've become, over the last few years, a bit of a snob about watching movies; I simply won't watch them on regular television. Commercials kill a film and I can't stand to see the wreckage anymore. So I had saved The Natural from TCM, one of my favorite channels, and took a look at it late last night.
I remember when the movie first came out. I liked it. I liked Redford and I especially liked Wilford Brimley in it. What a wonderful character actor Brimley was. The epitome of minimalism.
Over the years, The Natural has taken on new meaning for me. And last night, seeing it again for the first time in a couple of decades, I was truly moved by it. Redford is perfectly cast, he's rarely been better, and the story, especially the baseball sequences, is terribly moving.
Baseball has, with the possible exception of boxing, been the sport that Hollywood now and then gets exactly right. There are a few out there about the sport that the industry has done right: The Natural, of course, Bang the Drum Slowly, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, a couple of others.
And unlike a lot of films about the sport, Redford really looks like he knows how to play the game. For those of us that have actually played a little baseball in our lives, it's the little things that add up. For example, Redford is seen throwing the ball a number of times in slo-mo. The guy throws it right...eyes right, arm extends far enough back, full overhead arc, release is right, follow through right, fingers down, right hip pull over in the exact right vortex following the release; he's got it down. Occasionally one sees an actor play baseball on screen that is just laughable...Tony Perkins in Fear Strikes Out, John Goodman in The Babe, Gary Cooper in The Lou Gehrig Story (or whatever that one was called), some others. Four others I've noticed really nailed it, too. Costner looked like a real baseball player in his trilogy of baseball films, Charlie Sheen could really throw a ball...and DeNiro and Moriarty looked picture perfect in Bang the Drum...but most of the time, it's easy to spot the non-player.
Anyone, in any walk of life, that has put aside the true passion in their lives only to return to it later in life, can identify with this film, I think. Hence my own fondness for it. I think Field of Dreams is the only Baseball movie that I've enjoyed more over repeated viewings. I can still quote, word for word, James Earl Jones beautiful speech about baseball from that movie. "...and through it all - Baseball. Baseball."
Years ago I wrote a one-act called 'Our Generation' in which I played a number of different characters. In it, I took a shot at baseball myself and wrote a long monologue in the piece about it. Mostly it was about the perfect symmetry of the sport. There is a pureness about Baseball, an unsullied American pureness, that allows it to stand alone among other sports. And the simple fact that it is forever linked with Summer doesn't hurt, either.
The Natural, like Field of Dreams, is filled with really beautiful, haunting images. It's mythical film making, very Spielberg-esque. The final shot of the stadium lights being shattered by the towering home run is a visual for the ages. And even though I've seen it a few times, I am always moved by it. It is the great statement on comebacks. "America is the land of second acts," says an old quote I personally hold dear, and The Natural and that last shot in particular, is a joyous celebration of that truism.
I miss playing the game. After high school, I mostly played softball, especially in New York and highly competitive games in Central Park, but I'd like to find a league out here in LA to get involved with. Of course, it would have to be the 'old guy's' league. I played with a theatre company in Chicago for awhile, but it was mostly an excuse for people to drink beer, which is fine and dandy, but I get very intense when it comes to softball, so it wasn't really satisfying for me. Watching the film late last night made me decide to do some research and find a league here in LA before the summer is upon us.
Okay...got an audition in a couple of hours. Gotta sing a little ditty for it. Frankly, I'm kinda over singing little ditties, but whaddayagonna do?
See you tomorrow.