Saturday, March 1, 2014

My Oscar Ballot

Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Actor: Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Actress: Amy Adams, American Hustle
Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Director: Steve McQueen: 12 Years a Slave
Original Screenplay: Her
Adapted Screenplay: Before Midnight
Cinematography: Inside Llewyn Davis
Production Design: Her
Editing: Gravity
Costume Design: The Grandmaster
Score: Philomena
Song: "Let It Go", Frozen
Sound Mixing: Gravity
Sound Editing: All Is Lost
Visual Effects: Gravity
Make-Up: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Animated Feature: Frozen
Animated Short: Feral
Documentary Feature: The Act of Killing
Documentary Short: Facing Fear
Live Action Short:  Just Before Losing Everything
Foreign Language Film: The Missing Picture

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Of Tramps and Vamps

This past weekend was the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s introduction of his Little Tramp character in the 1914 short film Kid Auto Races at Venice and there is probably no single character in cinematic history so universally recognized or instantly iconic as him.  As you can see in these stamps, from various decades and continents, the Tramp belonged to the world, and was embraced for the hope and humanity he represented.

But 1923 was an unusual year for Charlie Chaplin.  After enormous success at the Essanay and Mutual studios, he was now at First National, fresh from his first feature film, the incredibly popular and moving The Kid (1921).  He was still making shorts, but with nowhere near the same manic productivity of the previous handful of years.  He was an artist in transition, and faced with the prospect of creating an ambitious follow-up, he took an unusual turn—one unlike any in his remarkable career.

A Woman of Paris (subtitled “A Drama of Fate”) opens with the following disclaimer:

TO THE PUBLIC: In order to avoid any misunderstanding, I wish to announce that I do not appear in this picture.  It is the first serious drama written and directed by myself.  – CHARLES CHAPLIN.

No ambiguity about his intentions, Chaplin wanted to make a movie that wasn’t propped up by levity or his own comedic presence.  And the story is a familiar one: a provincial ingénue, unhappy with her home and romantic life, goes to the big city, where she becomes torn between a wealthy benefactor and her beau from her past life.

The film, quite frankly, is an impressive endeavor, but also a bit of a mess—albeit an illuminating one, because it brings into sharp relief what a master storyteller Chaplin typically was, and how his rigorous discipline in creating comic set-ups was a reflection of his insistence on having motivation and characterization contribute to a larger narrative unity.

When the film opens, we already see Marie St. Clair (Chaplin regular Edna Purviance) and Jean Millet (Carl Miller) ready to elope.  Summarily banished from her own house and rejected by his parents, she’s taken by him to the train station to purchase tickets to Paris while he quickly returns home to pack a few items before meeting back up with her.  A family tragedy delays him, but despite his efforts to explain the situation, she simply hangs up on him and, without a penny or possession, goes to Paris alone.

While we do later learn that Jean is unreliable and easily swayed by parental pressure, we haven’t seen this yet.  It is his idea to take Marie in when her step-father abandons her.  It is his idea to move forward with their plans to marry.  Why does she give up on these dreams so quickly, and without even giving him a chance to explain?  We know very little about the couple, but she is quickly characterized as one ready to appease and acquiesce; so where does this spirit of reckless abandon come from?

Then, an intertitle: “A year later in the magic city of Paris, where fortune is fickle and a woman gambles with her life.”  And now Marie is traveling in the uppermost circles of Paris society.  She has a stable of vain and fashionable friends, all well-to-do (if perhaps fellow gold-diggers).  She is the kept woman of the richest bachelor in Paris, Pierre Revel (Adolphe Menjou).  She is cavalier enough about her opulent lifestyle that she isn’t worried about the prospect of losing her meal ticket when Revel becomes engaged (for business reasons) to another woman, but she is also still conventional enough that she objects to his remaining her sugar daddy, even though it’s an arrangement he wants to maintain because of his affection for her.

How did this traditional country girl ascend so fast to this high social tier?  How did she adapt such a sophisticated, almost cynical, attitude so quickly?  We see not a sliver of this potential in the first act of the film, so this transition feels incongruous and jarring.  And then, invited to an upper-class friend’s party, she happens on the wrong apartment by accident and discovers Jean living with his widowed mother in the same building.  How did they move to Paris so quickly, and how are they able to support this quality-of-life change on Jean’s profession as an artist?  And how likely is it that Revel would’ve never heard Marie mention Jean over the course of their affair? Again, no answers.

And this comes as quite a shock coming from Chaplin.  His films are brilliant examples of the intricate mechanism of set-up and payoff, where he establishes early a prop, a character foible, a deep-seeded intention, a simmering conflict, all so that when these elements align, a convincing foundation has been laid and the convergence of these story points harmonize to beautiful effect.
His films are filled with coincidence and unlikely incidents, but they never stink of contrivance because he has planted the necessary seeds in a way that is meticulous, visually deft, but also quite hilarious.  And here may be one important factor—because when we laugh, we as an audience are willing to forgive much that might otherwise suspend our disbelief.

But I think it goes deeper than that.  Chaplin’s obsession with multiple takes and working out the minutest of details is legendary, and this relentless perfectionsim was critical in making many of his most famous sequences work so effectively.  A Woman of Paris suggests that these comic set-ups were instrumental in driving this exacting narrative cause-and-effect, for divorced from any humorous context, the motivations in this “serious” drama are flimsy and the characterizations underdeveloped.

“A Drama of Fate” suggests a certain inevitability to Marie’s story, that her future was preordained by bad luck and the world’s cruelty.  But whereas Chaplin can mine deep emotional undercurrents from his comic set-ups (another part of his genius), there is little to invest in with Marie’s tale because she is less the victim of class or patriarchy and more her own bad, almost random, choices.  There is lots of melodrama, but little that is tragic.  Just frustrating.

This translates to the casting as well.  Purviance showed great comedic chops in his films, but also genuine emotional warmth and range; but here she seems adrift, not quite knowing where to take her character.  Marie is obviously meant to be a complex persona, but it never quite elevates beyond the contradictory.  Unquestionably the best performance is by Menjou, who controls every scene he’s in, and even though his part of the wealth, materialistic temptation is usually the heavy in these morality tales, he is not only the most charismatic person in the film, but also the most sympathetic—because he knows what he wants, refuses to be a hypocrite, but still displays real feeling, too.  Was Chaplin a better evaluator of performance when he was acting in a scene?  Did performing opposite him bring out unexpected qualities from his co-stars?  It’s tough to say, but Woman certainly raises these questions.

Don’t get me wrong, there is much to admire in Woman.  Chaplin shows his gift for composition often, and brings enormous amount of energy to the various crowd scenes.  The story does have a real adult and sophisticated sensibility.  And there are still small little touches, visual grace notes, that act as emotional shorthand in individual moments.  Plus, the ending is an unexpected one, although still in compliance with reaffirming gender roles of the time.  It is only the larger arc that I find unsatisfying, these merits notwithstanding.   But it does one make one wonder how Chaplin’s directorial skills would’ve developed if he’d pursued more projects like this in his career.  As it stands, A Woman of Paris remains a one-off for him—a fascinating experiment in a legendary career.

Chaplin’s last “short”, (actually a four-reeler) was also in 1923, The Pilgrim.  After that, it would only be features, with the masterpiece The Gold Rush (1925) right on the horizon, though this exacting nature would mean his productivity would slow down while his contemporaries Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, with two features each in 1923, would stay at full throttle until the silent era ended.  But he would prove with each subsequent film, that the wait was well worth it.

Monday, September 30, 2013

An Aloha State

I’ve been to Hawaii twice. 

The first time, my family took one of those island-hopping cruise ships—still the largest boat I’ve ever been on, but tiny compared to some of the mega-liners that exist now.  I was in the throes of puberty and its typical self-loathing, and there seemed to be plenty of things to do for adults or kids, but not much in that limbo range of early adolescence.  I don’t remember much about the boat except playing chess with my dad in one of the lounges, and spending a lot of time in the movie theater they had on board, in the bottom of the ship.

They would loop the same movie all day, a different movie each day.  Usually, it was a bad contemporary movie (City Heat with Burt & Clint, Oh God, You Devil with George Burns) but they also showed Blue Hawaii (1961), my first real exposure to Elvis, since we didn’t have any of his music in the house growing up.  Directed by Norman Taurog (the only Oscar-winner who would helm The King), it wasn’t very good but it was my first exposure to Angela Lansbury outside of Murder, She Wrote (a staple in our home) and the first time I ever heard “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, the only decent song in the film.

Love and Romance, back then, were just an abstraction—seemingly unattainable, completely alien to how I saw my life, myself.  But overflowing with hormones, I was still swept up with the longing of it, if not the hope.  That song, so simple, talks about Fate, the sheer inevitability of feeling that happens when your heart is affected.  There’s no reciprocation in the song, no relationship.  It is simply confessional, embracing the truth that at the right time, the heart knows what it wants.  Even if it keeps that truth to itself.  I had grown up along the Pacific, but it had never seemed so big than when I was on that boat.  And me, so small.

The second time I was in Hawaii, I was married.  A good friend was a pilot for the now-defunct Aloha airlines and we paid him and his girlfriend a visit.  My wife and I loved taking road trips so all we did in our free time there was circle Oahu by car, stopping every couple miles to visit one magnificent (and deserted) beach after another.  At one point along the drive, we encountered what looked like the remains of a terrible plane crash—except there were no emergency response vehicles, but a more sedate bustle and a road block that cut our excursion short.  It wouldn’t be until the following fall’s television season that this mysterious sight would be explained.  But mostly, the two of us just used paradise to escape, with the beauty of the island surrounding us.  Honolulu held little interest.  This was about exploring and getting Lost together.

I’m not married anymore, but no talk about my past travels is adequate without discussing my ex.  Like I’ve said before, we made a good team, and that was no truer than when we explored the world together.  We had different interests and tastes, but the pace at which we took things complemented each other perfectly, and the world seems, in a certain way, smaller without her.  Left to my own financial devices now, it’s certainly more inaccessible.  I’ve been to some truly amazing places, but there are many I’d still like to visit someday.  Perhaps I will.

When I first stepped foot on Kauai, it was literally the most beautiful place I’d ever been in my life.  But I’ve been to the islands twice now, and other places call to me far more.  But more than that, there is something unique about Hawaii for me.  Distinctive in its nature.  Whatever travels I see in my future, I foresee doing them alone.  And that’s ok—I love traveling, exploring, discovering by myself.  Which is why I probably will never go back to Hawaii. 

Because Hawaii is different.  Hawaii is for sharing.

Top 10 places I've been with her
1. Paris, France
2. The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
3. Budapest, Hungary
4. Bryce Canyon, Utah
5. Kruger National Park & safari across South Africa
6. Venice, Italy
7. Tokyo, Japan
8. Coastline of Maine, north of Portland
9. Barcelona, Spain
10. Siena, Italy

Top 10 places I've been without her
1. Amazon rainforest, Ecuador
2. The Catacombs - Paris, France
3. The Library of Congress nitrate film vaults - Dayton, OH*
4. Edinburgh, Scotland
5. Savannah, Georgia
6. 80 corridor, Wyoming
7. Kauai, Hawaii
8. The Tate Modern - London
9. Arlington Cemetery, Virginia
10. The Cat Cabinet - Amsterdam

*since relocated

10 places I still hope to visit one day
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
3. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
4. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
5. Musee d'Orsay - Paris, France
6. Pordenone Silent Film Festival, Italy
7. High Sierra Camps, Yosemite Nat'l Park, CA
8. Santorini, Greece
9. Antelope Canyon, AZ
10. MLB Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY

The Classic Elvis stamp (Scott #2721) is paired with a Hawaii statehood stamp (#4415).  The Steamboat Geyser stamp was part of the Wonders of America series (#4059), here paired with another Yellowstone geyser, Old Faithful (#1053) and one celebrating the park itself (#744).

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Jesus Christ Superman

I’ll admit it.  Reflecting back on the big tentpole pictures of the summer, even the ones I found enjoyable seemed to evaporate from memory quickly.  But while it’s far from perfect, Man of Steel (Snyder) still lingers.

I think what I like about the film is that it addresses something that the other films have largely avoided, or only given lip service to: That Supes is genuinely super-human.  Not just extra-powerful, but almost godlike in his abilities (on a relative scale).  The devastation of Metropolis at the end is exhausting, given the overall film’s running time, but essential in conveying how humanity is mere cannon fodder if two true Super Men were to do battle.

But the irony is that despite the acknowledgment of this fact, the film is the least messianic about Superman than any we’ve ever seen.  In the Christopher Reeve incarnation, man is essentially powerless, and Superman must come and save the day for the planet time and time again.  At the end of Kill Bill, Part 2, Bill has a monologue on how the persona of Clark Kent is Kal-El’s commentary on (and veiled contempt for) mankind.  It’s a patronizing position, but apt because in those films, he’s all-powerful, but man is also hopelessly impotent.  This is even taken to the extent that Earth gains an entitlement complex by the time we reach Superman 3, where our hero is criticized for not always being able to save everyone, all the time.

However, despite being more powerful than any Superman we've seen thus far, Man of Steel's Superman is still less god, and more man.  His search for answers to his own identity make him more accessible, and his dedication to being an example for Earth, not an answer to all its troubles, is not mere lip service, as we see in the moving sacrifice of Col. Hardy and Dr. Hamilton (Chris Meloni & Richard Schiff, respectively) in the destruction of the Earth Builder.  Earth’s rescue is a collaboration; Supes may be the architect, but mankind has a real stake in its own salvation.  And that’s something we’ve never seen before.

I liked this film because it also (intentionally or not) harkened back to one of my favorite sci-fi films of the 70s, God Told Me To (Cohen, 1976).  In it, a supernatural being here on Earth assumes upon himself his own personal God complex.  And who can blame him?  A miraculous birth, powers far beyond his peers, in a society steeped in religion but agnostic when it comes to life on other planets—what else is he supposed to conclude other than that he represents a spiritual Second Coming?  And when you are dealing with someone who not only believes he’s God but has the power to back it up, what then?  It is director Larry Cohen’s finest film (Andy Kaufman’s too, incidentally), and it takes perverse pleasure in merging and melding these myths and cultural tropes that cinematic sci-fi usually keeps quite separate.

There were other things I liked about Man of Steel, too.  Krypton was a real place, with a real culture and history, not just a sound stage.  Zod is not just power mad; he’s a totalitarian on a genocidal mission, which makes him more believable and more horrifying.  True, Kevin Costner’s death is stupid and doesn’t have the poignancy of Glenn Ford's in the 1978 version, and the romance with Lois needed time to breathe.  It’s too fast, too sudden.  But Diane Lane, as Ma Kent, picks up the emotional slack and you see how the Kents would’ve raised their son with a stalwart code of values.  

But in the end, the film tries to explain Superman, not just accept him on faith.  In the original Superman, he just…shows up one day, out of the blue.  His appearance to humanity is completely arbitrary (unless it’s to save Lois’s life).  But here, Kal-El is forced to make a choice that redefines his purpose, and the planet’s own self-awareness, too.  His search for this purpose ends up bringing the Kryptonians to Earth.  His sense of responsibility is why he reveals himself, at long last.  Call it The Last Temptation of Clark.  Until now, the cinematic Superman was always one-dimensional, a goody-two shoes.  That’s what made him truly alien.  He isn’t even known by his superhero moniker here.  This is not just a reboot, but a new conception of the character altogether.  I’m curious to see where it goes.

Of course, my favorite silver screen Superman is still the one conceived by the Fleischer brothers in their marvelous cartoon shorts of the 40s.  Here's one gem from 1942.

The first card (a greeting card, actually) has a Superman stamp issued as part of the DC comic book series (Scott #4084k) and is paired up with the Superman stamp that was part of the Celebrate the Century series (#3185f).  And Canada had a Superman stamp too, from 1995.  The other Superman stamp (#4084a) and FDC from that DC comic series is on the other card (a postcard), along with Supergirl (#4084i) from the same series.  As a concession to possible comic collectors, I also added a Marvel stamp on each of these cards from a subsequent release, too--hence The Hulk (#4159l) and Captain America (#4159e).

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


She said we didn’t argue enough, and perhaps she was right.  We were best friends, and it was hard to stay mad at each other for long.  I can hardly remember a time when we let the sun go down on our anger.  As it probably should be.  But it also meant that things that needed to be talked about, weren’t.  They were perpetually shelved in the wake of our love and good feeling in each other’s company, left to be addressed (or not) for another day.

I don’t tell people when my birthday is.  It’s a date, a milestone that’s generally meaningless to me.  My age is a number that holds no real relationship to how I look or feel.  So I couldn’t care less about it.  At my last job, everyone would celebrate each birthday in our department, and after a few years, they noticed they never celebrated mine, so I told them that if they wanted to celebrate a date, then choose my wedding anniversary.  Because that was a date that held real value for me.  They never did.

It would’ve been 14 years today.  But now, it’s just a date like any other—one with plenty of memories and associations, but nobody with whom to share them.  Everyone thought we were a good couple, but what we actually were was a good team.  Our strengths played off each other well, and helped cover the things the other wasn’t so good at.  We started as colleagues, then quickly friends.  Before we were even a couple, she was the best friend I’d ever had.  Nobody understood me better, looked out for me more.  But a good couple has not just light, but heat.  Friction and frission.

Adam’s Rib (Cukor, 1949) is probably the most celebrated pairing of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.  It is about a married couple, both lawyers, who take opposing sides in a domestic violence case, highlighting and amplifying the hypocrisies and complications of gender roles and expectations in a marriage.  It was written by a married couple (Garson Kanin & Ruth Gordon) and Hepburn & Tracy’s ongoing love affair is one of the most venerated of the classical Hollywood era.  So the anxieties and nuances of being a couple are in the film’s DNA.

And there is a lot of arguing in Adam’s Rib.  Arguments in the courtroom and the bedroom—never cruel but very pointed.  The most dangerous thing about being a couple is that the other person knows you too well—your vulnerabilities and vanities, your soft spots and triggers.  We don’t like to be reminded of our flaws, our shortcomings, and nobody knows either better than the person we choose to spend the rest of our lives with.  But ironically, the things that flare our tempers also flame our desires--we may be humbled sometimes, but it often comes with a subcurrent of hot agitation.

Last spring’s Before Midnight is saturated in this state of marital tension.  While the first film in the Linklater/Hawke/Delpy trilogy, Before Sunrise, was about love’s possibilities and the second, Before Sunset, about love’s resonance, this third installment is about love’s consequences.  Choices.  Children.  Compromises.  We’ve never seen Jesse & Celine so at odds with each other, but never as sexual with each other, either.  Fighting and fucking are the yin & yang of their partnership, the way to build and release emotions that run deep, and a way to remind each other that passionate defenses and passionate rebuttals speak to passionate feelings that still rise to the surface and overflow.  It’s not my favorite film of the series, but it is the one that speaks the closest to me—of all the little details and dynamics I can relate to, and those I wish I could say I do after being married a decade, but can’t.

You can’t have great make-up sex if you never have a falling out.  Acceptance evolves into complacency, and a close affinity can slowly degrade and fester if it’s not challenged or fueled by disagreement.  We never really fought.  It wasn’t our style.  We had been friends for far too long and never tired of each other’s company.  Perhaps we were too eager to accept, too quick to forgive, too reluctant to provoke.  But an electric blanket is different than a roaring fire.  One is dependable and cozy while the other needs more watching and greater attention, but can accomplish so much more, even if it does involve frequent licking of one's wounds.  To be a good couple, there needs to be a balance between the two sets of qualities--compatibility and chemistry-- and a sense of direction, growth.  Otherwise, you’re just roommates with responsibilities and a shared romantic history—real enough, authentic and loving, but rudderless, and a shadow of what could be. 

I can’t speak for her.  All I know is that I was very happy in the restless way you get when you don’t know what happiness really feels like.  If we had fought more, we might’ve discovered this sooner and done something about it, for better or worse.  And while things happen for a reason, she deserved a better ending.  On that point, I'll always be guilty.  But Agape is not Eros, no matter how hard you wish it to be.  And when it came to Love, we were speaking different languages, so assured in our understanding of each other to notice any disconnect. 

The Katharine Hepburn stamp (Scott #4461) is paired with a jury duty one (#4200), while Frank Sinatra (#4265) is matched with a wedding ring stamp (#4397).  The stamp named Where Dreams Blossom from this year is Scott #4764.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Beautiful Thing

A wedding, a promise, a ring
And the moral weight that they bring
Are now to All free
With sweet Dignity
For Love is a Beautiful Thing

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

Every Douglas Addams aficionado knows what the title means: In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the number 42 is that (cryptic) answer.  And any baseball fan knows that 42 is perhaps the most important number in a sport unequaled in its love of stats and numerics.

I’m 42.  I have loved baseball for as long as I can remember.  I was a pretty good 3rd baseman and without a doubt the worst hitter our league had likely ever seen.  Our local team the Padres were hopeless cellar dwellers for most of my time living in San Diego.  But I didn’t care.  I collected the cards, followed the standings, fill out box scores at home watching televised games on Saturday afternoons.  A game that’s often mocked for its more boring attributes was one I found simple and meditative and beautiful.

Jackie Robinson was probably the first black person I ever read about, and likely the window into American racial politics for this middle-class kid in a lily-white suburb.  And it’s a tremendous story of bravery through stoicism, conviction, and alliance building, a model of living by example in the face of unthinkable pressure.

So while I’m not sure if the recently-released movie 42 (Helgeland) is great cinema, it is great baseball and, to these eyes, the best biopic of the sport ever made.  Fans might quickly jump to The Pride of the Yankees (1942, Wood) a film that, at every turn, tries to avoid baseball as much as possible.  Never for a second do I believe Lou Gehrig as a cornpone Mr. Deeds clone as Gary Cooper portrays him.  He talks about his love for the game the same way he does his love for his mother—in a way that reeks of Americana clichés but has no appreciation for the sport itself (the film rarely shows on-field action except in redundant montages).  Instead, the film concentrates on the marriage of the Gehrigs, reducing his story to that of a nice guy who gets very sick who happened to wear a Yankee uniform.

 I have a knee-jerk revulsion of films that treat historical anecdote as drama (Argo being the most recent well-lauded example).  Just because something “happened” doesn’t mean it’s inherently dramatic.  Drama at its best is not just suspenseful proceedings; it should shine a window into the human condition.  Yes, the last 3 minutes of The Pride of the Yankees are moving, but that can't erase the 2 hours of tedium and sentimentality that precedes it.  The film never tells us why Gehrig was great; it just assumes as much and is content to tell us its sad story.  True, in 1942, the sting of his death (only 4 years earlier) was still fresh and no doubt informed the praise it got at the time.  But the ongoing devotion the film has now is perplexing to me, because it’s not particularly good drama and it’s not good baseball.  Plus, it suffers from what I call “Chungking Express syndrome”—when a film plays a single song so incessantly, you hope you never hear it again as long as you live (in this case, Irving Berlin’s otherwise lovely “Always”).

42 has baseball chops and can be forgiven its hokier moments by convincingly portraying why Robinson mattered.  More than anyone, all baseball history can be divided into pre-and post-Jackie eras.  He is the sport’s emotional and moral pivot point, and the film is successful in not making him a saint nor diminishing his very substantial contribution either.  The cast is uniformly fine, with Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie acquitting themselves very well in the thankless roles of the Robinsons.  Lucas Black makes a touching Pee Wee Reese, and his simple act of comraderie with Robinson in front of a stadium full of his fellow southerners is even more powerful than I had imagined it to be when reading about it 35 years ago.

But the real surprises are against-type portraits by Alan Tudyek and Harrison Ford.  This is Ford’s first big excursion into character actor territory, and he’s quite good, immersing himself into the unlikely role of Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, conveying both his practical savvy and passionate sensibility when it came to changing a game that he loved too much to see compromised by racism.  It would have been easy for the film to opaquely suggest the myriad of ways that Robinson was taunted and vilified by fans and players alike, but the showdown with Tudyek’s Ben Chapman (Philadelphia Phillies manager) pulls absolutely no punches.  It’s a horrifying, virulent scene of verbal abuse, painful to watch, especially when you remember that in baseball, you step up to the plate hundreds of times in a season.  Up until then, it’s a well-done but fairly standard film, but that scene conveys the emotional stakes of the story in stark relief, and the emotional toll it took on Robinson in a very real, unrelenting way.

Of course, this isn’t the first film about Robinson.  The Jackie Robinson Story (Green, 1950) told it previously, with Robinson himself in the lead.  It’s a low-budget affair, more thematically on-the-nose, leapfrogging from one incident to another, but it covers some territory 42 doesn’t (especially with his minor league vs. major league career) and is worth seeking out, if only for the curiosity factor of seeing a biopic with its star also its subject.  But 42 is more visceral, and more appreciative of the larger historical context conveyed.  

Because ultimately, 42 is not just a biopic about Robinson.  It’s a treatise on the sport itself, and the change one person can make.  I’ve never been to the MLB Hall of Fame, though I hope to one day.  But I have been to the Negro League Hall of Fame in Kansas City, and I found it a beautiful experience, in the memorializing of a separate, unequal institution and the personalities who excelled in it because they loved the game.  I have a hard time believing Cooperstown will be as moving.
When I was married, I had a falling away from baseball.  She had been a sports widow in her previous marriage, and there were some things that mattered more to me than indulging in a game, no matter how good-natured she might be about it.  I wanted her happy.  But now that I’m alone, I find myself back at the park again, when my Padres play the Giants.  I have no idea who any of the players are these days, and I don’t follow the standings or the careers the way I used to.  But I still love watching a game—its mechanics and its poetry.  It’s something I didn’t realize I’d missed so much.  And 42 came at the perfect time to remind me of that affection.

My Top 10 team sport movies
1. Bull Durham (Shelton, 1988)
2. The Bad News Bears (Ritchie, 1976)
3. Slap Shot (Hill, 1977)
4. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (Gowariker, 2001)
5. Hoop Dreams (James, 1994)
6. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings (Badham, 1976)
7. Moneyball (Miller, 2011)
8. Friday Night Lights (Berg, 2004)
9. Miracle (O'Connor, 2004)
10. He Got Game (Lee, 1998)

Honorable mention: The football games in the last reel each of The Freshman (Newmeyer/Taylor, 1925), Horse Feathers (McLeod, 1932), and MASH (Altman, 1970)

This is flagged with a Bad Postmark label because you'll notice that the card at the top doesn't have one at all!  When the USPS issues a new stamp, you can either have a First-Day-of-Issue premade cover sent to you (a mass-produced envelope, typically), or you can create something yourself and send it in to have it hand-stamped--my M.O.  However, these two are often at completely different addresses!  So with the Take Me Out to the Ballgame issue (Scott #4341), I had the card ready to go, but sent it to the wrong Postmaster--so they sent everything back to me umarked.  By then, the deadline to resubmit them to the right location had passed, so now I have a lot of baseball postcards like the Ebbets Field card, waiting for another chance (and another stamp) but otherwise pristine and idle.

The Jackie Robinson stamp is #2013, while Lou Gehrig is #2417.  The Ebbets Field and Yankee Stadium stamps are Scott #3510 & 3513 respectively.  Gary Cooper is #4421 and Han Solo is #4143l.  The flag that constitutes the final FDC on the page is #4228.