Wednesday, December 7, 2011
FIELD OF DREAMS
(April 1989, U.S.)
By our standards of popular culture (whatever they happen to be these days), FIELD OF DREAMS is often considered the best baseball film ever made. While I don't exactly disagree, I consider this a highly ironic honor considering the fact that there's no actual professional baseball game played in the film. That's right - no game, no underdog team of misfits, no spectacular home run and safe-at-home victory that wins the big game. In FIELD OF DREAMS, we explore the meaning and spirit of baseball and how it's come to not only represent our American history, but also as a symbol of our youthful dreams and fantasies of greatness.
(Wow! That was deep!)
Take a moment, though, and try to imagine what it must have been like to pitch the idea for the big screen to the vast number of studios that turned the project down (some more than once), despite being based on an original novel ("Shoeless Joe" by W. P. Kinsella). Picture director and writer Phil Alden Robinson standing in front of some Hollywood big shot's desk trying to sell the idea of an Iowa farmer who willingly plows through his corn crop and his livelyhood for no other reason than having heard a mysterious voice telling him, "If you build it, he will come." But this, my friends, is where the open-mindedness of true film magic comes into play and offers the audience the opportunity to not only open their closed minds for a moment, but to also sit back and watch what happens as a result. That result is a film of pure fantasy; fantasy without dragons, magic spells or space battles. It's the magic of baseball and how much it means to all of us.
Kevin Constner, whom despite having made other great films like DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990) and JFK (1991), is an actor that I simply cannot help but think of as "Mr. Baseball" when it comes to his long career. In any role he's played regarding the sport, one comes away feeling the same passion he often feels for the game. As it turns, he is (or WAS in his younger days) quite a ball player. But Costner as Ray Kinsella is only the beginning here. The roles played by Ray Liotta as "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, James Earl Jones as Terence Mann and especially the great Burt Lancaster (in his last film role) as Archie "Moonlight" Graham are nothing short of awe-inspiring and magical. Watching their faces and hearing their voices can easily bring out emotions from the viewer of what it must be like to seek a dream so badly and only managing to come within just inches of achieving it. It hurts so badly to not have one's dream realized, but the glimpses of hope and magic (there's that damn word again!) that FIELD OF DREAMS provides is that if we strongly believe in something, that maybe even just a taste of that dream for a few moments will sustain us through the rest of our lives (or in the film's case, the afterlife).
Watching FIELD OF DREAMS not only brings the traditional cliche of good feelings out of you, but it also has the potential to provoke your own memories of baseball in your life, whatever they may be. For myself, I was much like Ray Kinsella in that I was determined to be an opposite fan of whatever my father liked. He liked the Mets, so I loved the Yankees (and still do!). By the time I'd discovered Reggie Jackson in 1977 as my true baseball hero, there was no going back for me as to where my loyalties in baseball would forever remain. I'm been a loyal Yankee fan since I was a boy, even through their worst periods. The day I took my little boy to his first Yankee game at the newly-built Yankee stadium on a beautiful sunny day in the Summer of 2010 and cheered the great Derek Jeter with him was truly a day of joy as a father who was passing along the American spirit of baseball to his son. I wish that sort of joy for all you fathers and your sons.
So, what's your personal baseball story?
Favorite line or dialogue:
Terence Mann: "Ray, people will come, Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only twenty dollars per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh...people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."