History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Saturday, March 30, 2013

"Pollock" film does disservice with its emphasis

Watching the movie "Pollock" (2000), I was reminded of "Walk the Line."
Ed Harris was reportedly obsessed about making "Pollock" before he could finally make it a reality. He plays the painter in the movie. Why would he feel such a lure to this character? I suspect he felt more of a lure to Hollywood accolades. Sorry for such a cynical thought, but movies that tell the story of troubled, "complicated" artists in American history seem to have an edge for getting accolades. If you can separate this "formula" from the actual movie, you might not think the movie is that good.
John C. Reilly recognized that formula. That's why he came out with a biting satire - he eviscerated it - with his movie "Walk Hard." It was a satire on "Walk the Line," the biopic about Johnny Cash. I watched "Walk Hard" when it was making the rounds at theaters.
I watched "Pollock" on DVD last week, thanks to our Morris Public Library. What these movies do, is identify an iconic artist whose work led his name to be familiar to everyone, and show his flaws as a human being as he rises, dips, rises again or whatever.
There is no easy ticket to fame. Fame itself can seem to destroy people. Today it seems there are agents who do better insulating creative young people from the vicissitudes of stardom. Jim Morrison of the Doors seemed to desperately need such help. Same with Pollack, Jackson Pollack, who didn't just sink from fame at the end of his life, he killed himself and an innocent passenger in a drunken driving incident.
Usually you can leave the theater with some reverence about such a subject even though the movie depicts the troublesome things. The nature of Pollock's death cannot be overlooked.
I'd leave the theater wishing I had chosen a different movie. I watched it on DVD from the library. Nobody made any money from me on it.
I associate Ed Harris with John McCain. Harris played the politician in "Game Change," the movie which I suspect was more a biopic about Sarah Palin than the Arizona senator. McCain is a sympathetic person and I say that as a Democrat.
Pollock had some meteoric fame as an artist. He gave us a generous dose of "modern" art. Right away a whole lot of biases kick in when you hear the term "modern art." That's if you're like me.
There is an intelligentsia out there that likes to tell us knaves what "good art" is. I have tried fending off this crowd all my life. A tremendous amount of bulls--t circulates about the criteria for determining good art. Countless college art teachers are out there prowling around, protecting their tenured status by pretending to know all these criteria and lecturing the rest of us. I reserve the right to look at a work of art and decide if I like it. To put it succinctly: A work of art can be judged by the emotional impact it has on the viewer. I don't listen to the horribly preachy commenting of art practitioners who of course are trying to feather their own nest.
I know of a Civil War artist, who in fact may be the best, who is preachy in saying that any Civil War art is worthless unless it's totally accurate, presumably down to the last belt buckle. He's the type who could probably tell you in what factory such belt buckles were made. A columnist for a Civil War re-enactors magazine finally got fed up with the pronouncements of this artist, and said such rigid standards were really just a matter of opinion. The columnist said that the kind of historical accuracy being promoted by the artist in question - OK he's Don Troiani - would pertain to "illustration" rather than "art." Illustration shows something as it is, or was.
Again, "art" is to be judged by the emotional impact on the viewer.
The classic painting of George Washington as a boy but with an adult head is of course ridiculous in the context of "accuracy." But it's a classic.
What made Pollock's art so significant for a time? Was it because he had unearthed some fascinating new form of visual expression that would open new vistas? OK, now I'm going to put on my media analyst hat. Ahem. Pollock made his splash in the 1940s when the general interest magazines like Life and Look were at their apex. When the phone rang at the Pollocks' residence and it was Life Magazine, looking for a story - this is depicted in the movie - it was transformative for the Pollocks. It was like gold being deposited in their front yard from a dump truck.
I know all about media entities "looking for a story." I'm sure Life Magazine was always looking for something fresh. The media are averse to subjects deemed tired and old. Allow me to make a parallel with the music world. Chuck Mangione tasted fame in a meteoric way with his "fluegelhorn" in the 1970s. Was it because of the genius of his artistry?
People like Pollock and Mangione are well-grounded artistically to be sure. The movies don't tell us enough about that. The movies become preoccupied with their eccentricities and struggles as they ride the wave of fame and eventually fall off it.
Why did Mangione come to the forefront? It was because radio DJs had gotten sick of the BeeGees. Yes! They were looking for something that would represent a complete departure. So we got "Feel so Good" on the charts from Mr. Mangione, the slightly-built brass player who seemed to struggle reaching the high notes. His life probably won't warrant a biopic.
But Harris made certain we got reminded of "Pollock." The artist has been described as an "undiagnosed manic-depressive." If he was undiagnosed, how do we know he had it? Maybe he was just a difficult SOB. Given how he died, I'm not inclined toward any sympathy for the man. He had everything and then he just imploded. He looked unkempt at the end.
We only care about the man because "kingmaker" Life Magazine catapulted him to the forefront, giving him a wave to ride. If his art had obvious merit, that would be one thing. It did not have obvious merit. If his art did in fact reflect discernible craftsmanship, I wish the movie "Pollock" had told us something about it.
I doubt Harris needed a stand-in for the scenes in which he's painting. That's because this type of painting can be faked by anyone. Just splash paint around here and there. Nice work if you can find it. I remember P.J. O'Rourke laughing in a C-Span interview once, talking about how college students all over the U.S. were encouraged to ape Pollock, splashing paint around.
The professors were misled. Pollock was "great" not because of any special genius, I'd argue, but because Life Magazine was looking for a story. I'm sure the Life journalists were thinking "hey, we'll get some great visuals for this." Photos of Pollock's oddball work were certainly a conversation topic for people with Life Magazine on the coffee table. The formula worked. And in its wake we had Pollock the man, a tortured soul much like Jim Morrison, floundering. Life Magazine moved on. The artist crashed and burned.
The movie tells us that Pollock once studied under Thomas Hart Benton, the noted muralist. The comment is made: "But your art is nothing like his." The topic is then dropped. I would be fascinated to know why Pollock studied under Benton, what he thought he got from it, and how it might have influenced him. Again, I'm looking for more insights into how Pollock developed his craftsmanship to the degree he had craftsmanship. I suspect he did. I just wish like heck the movie could have told us something about it.
This is the prime failing of the movie, I feel. It seems derivative. It's like "Walk the Line." Here's a famous man who through a combination of talent and timing, became famous but who has great difficulty balancing that with the demands of his private, personal life.
The sad thing about these movies is that they don't tell us enough about the earlier stages in these guys' lives when they were working hard, not abusing alcohol or drugs, getting their proper amount of sleep and building their craft. We see too much of the oddball phase of their lives as they near falling off a cliff.
Young people who see these movies can get the wrong idea. They might think it's OK to develop the oddball traits because hey, that's how these guys got famous. That's not how they got famous. They stayed famous in spite of their bad habits, not because of them.
Billy Martin became a baseball genius in the time when he lived a more boring life. A better example of this is Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson made his stamp as a writer from when he lived a responsible lifestyle. These guys become caricatures at the end. They barely cling to their craftsmanship. I wish "Pollock" had told us more about the artist studying under Thomas Hart Benton. But that would be boring!
Life Magazine was "looking for a story." Ed Harris was "looking for a movie." Maybe John C. Reilly has shown us that "The Emperor has no Clothes."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ambivalence for "The Three Stooges: the Movie"

You might remember a novelty song from the 1980s called "The Curly Shuffle." Such a creation would probably get lost today amidst the vast sea of grassroots-created media. It made an impression in the 1980s. It was a gesture of tribute and nostalgia. It singled out one member of the famed comedic trio.
What is it about three men that seems to create a mystique? In the 1970s we had Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and "Dandy Don" Meredith. I suppose Howard was the leader (like "Moe"), "Dandy Don" the clown and Frank the straight man. Oh, don't underestimate the importance of the "straight man." The creative minds behind the Three Stooges understood this fully.
Gifford did deliver a classic funny line once: "She was almost perfect" (after the camera panned in on an attractive woman who proceeded to remove some effluence from her nose).
We saw the "three men" formula again with Leslie Nielsen, George Kennedy and the notorious O.J. Simpson. Kennedy was the straight man, watching with amazement as the comic, Nielsen, was an impostor in place of an opera singer for the National Anthem. Simpson took the pratfalls. We laughed as Simpson was subjected to real violence, within comic boundaries of course.
Freud once said "all comedy is derived from sadism."
Thus we come to the subject of the Three Stooges, the mention of which probably makes you instantly smile or wince. There are those who seem programmed not to like the Three Stooges. My old boss at the Morris newspaper, Jim Morrison, is one. He recalls getting introduced to the iconic comic act at the Halloween parties given by the Morris Lions Club for the Morris kids. The Lions set up a reel-to-reel movie projector! Power point was way off in the future. We had "slide projectors." Remember the stand-up comic who had the line "How'd that get in there?"
I remember at least one of those Halloween parties being held at the "wrestling gym" of the old, now-abandoned school. (The city is finally talking about demolition. But why is it just the city's issue? Shouldn't the cost be spread around the school district? Did the city get taken on this? The city's excuse for why the site hasn't been re-developed, is "the 2008 economic downturn." It's always nice to have an excuse, isn't it?)
So, we have this rather interesting predisposition to either like or not like the Three Stooges. Like it's sort of primal. Freud might be consulted further. I have read that women tend not to like the Three Stooges. Imagine that.
Hollywood is trying to make the Stooges a current phenomenon. "The Three Stooges: the Movie" is from the Farrelly brothers. Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly have a comedy track record to be sure. I confess I'm not "into" their work. I have watched only portions of "There's Something About Mary" on cable TV. Another exhibit is "Dumb and Dumber." Jeff Daniels is typecast in my mind as a Civil War officer from "Gettysburg." (Aren't we due for a new movie about that battle?)
All that the Farrellys have touched has not turned to gold. "Hall Pass" was an arguably vile offering. Could they rebound with their "Three Stooges" project? They didn't have to create any new comedic chemistry or model. The mold was right there waiting for them. It was a resurrection project all the way.
The movie was on the drawing board for a long time. It had to survive MGM's bankruptcy. It survived rumors of certain "name" actors filling the key roles. Sean Penn as Larry? As it turned out, Sean Hayes stepped into the role of Larry, a Stooge whose humor was, shall we say, understated. A writer once observed "Larry really wasn't very funny but it wouldn't be the same without him."
Ah, the comedic chemistry. It might be hard to appreciate how important some of these secondary players are. Each of the Stooges represented the "Stooge spirit" in a particular way. They were vagrant-like without seeming fazed at all by that. They had an optimism and determination that defied their incompetence. They were good-hearted.
"There was a lot more to the Three Stooges than violence," a critic once said.
It's chiseled in stone that critics must approach all movies objectively. Given the sort of innate acceptance or rejection of the Three Stooges we all feel, there's a problem for reviewing "The Three Stooges: the Movie." Maybe disclaimers would be in order. The non-believers aren't going to be swayed by a well-made movie. My old boss Morrison certainly wouldn't be. I imagine I'm in the "believers" camp. While I wouldn't join a fan club, I find the Stooges' entertainment more than mildly appealing.
Will Sasso plays Curly Howard. Some Stooges fans might suggest there never was a substitute for Curly. He was the burly slapstick master who acted childlike. I loved him as the pro wrestler who was a stand-in for "Bust-Off" who had gotten drunk. Curly beat up his foe when he got a whiff of "Wild Hyacinth" perfume.
The script for the new movie was not written to really showcase the Sasso character. I'd love to see Sasso as the pro wrestler. The script was written with balance in mind for the three performers. Sasso does well with the difficult task of bringing "Curly" back to life. If I had been told before seeing this movie, that Sasso would do so well, I would have assumed his character stood out, even stealing the movie. It does not. It's as if Curly's presence had to be suppressed a bit. The scriptwriters would have nothing to do with Sasso (as Curly) stealing this movie.
The script actually seems tilted toward Moe, played by a guy whose last name is a sobriety test for when you're typing: Chris Diamantopoulos. Critics have raved especially about "Chris D.'s" performance. "He owns the role," one said, whereas the other two just seemed like impersonators.
Critics have been puzzled or indecisive about Hayes as Larry. I read one who raved and another who gave a thumbs-down.
Clearly these three actors were going to be judged by exacting standards. The ambivalence about Hayes as Larry might reflect the subtle and understated role of Larry Fine himself. He was important but it was hard sometimes to understand why.
Roger Ebert described the new movie as "the best you can do for 2012." He reflected, "I didn't laugh much." And he asked, "Was it really necessary?" He admits that the acting, or impersonation, was solid.
About a third of the way into the movie, I was tempted to press the "stop" button on my DVD player. The movie just wasn't working for me. It seemed strained, this effort to make the now-dead Stooges "real" again. Yes, wouldn't it be great to see "Bogie" and Gable come to life again? Except that it just can't happen, any more than we can gather the '69 Mets and Orioles together and see that Series again. I felt like I should be watching an authentic Stooges DVD or tape. These are available at our Morris Public Library.
I stuck with the whole movie and found that by the end, it was acceptable entertainment, or as Ebert would say, "the best you can do for 2012." Like Ebert I never really laughed.
Was this movie a museum exhibit or genuine comedy? Because of this lingering question, I hope there's no sequel. We don't need "The Three Stooges Christmas Movie." Not that I'd rule it out.
"The Three Stooges: the Movie" is organized into three segments. The Farrellys are trying to re-create the feel of those "shorts" complete with the type of "still" (and music) that would introduce them. But these are not true "shorts," as the story continues pretty seamlessly. The original Stooges were all about "shorts." They were a quick and guilty pleasure. I suspect they were shown before the main attraction. Thus they didn't tax the mind too much.
Storylines were basic and banal and even that might be generous. A job needs to be done and here come the Stooges in their painting overalls and with ladder etc. Simple storylines were much more common in an earlier age. Today we take for granted sub-plots. A complicated storyline is actually anathema to the Stooges' shtick. The new movie has the kind of finesse and complications in the storyline that are typical of today. Maybe this is mainly how the movie loses some authenticity. Full-length features were not the Stooges' thing to begin with.
The storyline has the Stooges seeking $830,000 to keep an orphanage open. We learn of a murder plot against a millionaire. "Chris D." as Moe ends up on reality TV. I liked this aspect of the movie, unlike most of the reviewers I read. The notorious "Jersey Shore" crew gives the backdrop. I have never actually watched that show. Moe is good for their ratings. Eventually there's a financial plum from this.
There's a black widow wife character played by the sultry Sofia Vergara. (I must avoid the Freudian slip of typing "Viagra.") She schemes to murder her rich husband, a childhood acquaintance of the Stooges.
The husband character is impressed by the unconditional friendship among the Stooges. He feels brethren with them even though he's on the safe side of the "sane" line. He likes them just like the brawny pro wrestler "Bust-Off" in that old Stooges short.
Maybe we like the Stooges because they seem so non-threatening. Sasso, Hayes and "Chris D." nail the timing and mannerisms of the originals. That's commendable. But one is left wondering if this is a truly inspired fresh product or more of a Las Vegas stage show featuring impersonators. Maybe the lesson is to leave the past alone.
The real Stooges did nearly 200 short films. Their peak was before World War II but they hardly faded away after that. "Shemp" replaced Curly. "Shemp" had successors too. The Stooges had a formula or philosophy that worked through transitions. At the end it was Joe DeRita in the role of the third Stooge. He always looked like he could act like the original Curly but he really couldn't.
There was a biopic a few years ago about the Three Stooges that I actually found to be more moving than the new movie. The biopic was the type of movie I'd like to watch again. The new movie isn't.
The Farrellys made a bold and committed effort to be sure they truly paid homage. Jane Lynch (from "Glee") was a delight as always as "Mother Superior."
I'm glad this whole troupe got together to try to resurrect the classic act and classic imagery. But I'm afraid, one is enough.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Win Win" an endearing film about life's ruts & triumphs

"Win Win" (2011) is one of those movies that got a lot of promo on cable TV but didn't show up at the regional movie complex. The complex most convenient to us would be the one in Alexandria. (Yes, that's our "Mount Pilot.") If "Win Win" ever showed up there, it was after I had stopped checking.
I had the same experience with the movie "W" about the life of President George W. Bush. I called the Theater about the Bush movie, even asking if there were political reasons behind the apparent non-booking! ("You're a political animal," one-time Morris Chamber of Commerce manager Scott Beckman told me.)
In our media-drenched universe, people my age can't expect business to be done like in the old days. They say the 1930s was "the golden age of Hollywood." Balderdash. Take a look at the DVD vending machine at McDonald's. Hollywood is spitting out movies faster than I can keep track of them. Today is the "golden age."
The movie "Win Win," despite its visibility in those cable TV promos and its obvious charm and quality, evidently didn't penetrate into the clear mainstream. James Berardinelli of "Reelviews" didn't even review it. I even noticed a little campaign online to get him to review it. Good ol' Roger Ebert did review it. Ebert liked it but not as much as I would have expected. I would have expected Roger to like it without any reservations. Ebert is a "critic of the people," and "Win Win" is a tale about real people, showing their flaws and everyday tribulations but also their ability to prevail.
There is nothing not to like about "Win Win," which stars the endearing everyman Paul Giamatti. I didn't like him in "Sideways" which I considered the epitome of amoral Hollywood tripe. But "Win Win" is a fresh and inspiring offering which Giamatti seized to portray Americana - the joys but also the grim challenges faced by ordinary Americans. These are Americans facing the specter of bills to pay. They are in no way extraordinary with their talents. Or motivations. They don't rule out cutting corners or bending rules.
We all know people who might resort to a little shiftiness. Hold up a mirror, anyone? Some of these people may slip into a gray area where they might be truly "bad." But there surely is a wide gray area. Stuff breaks and people don't fix it. This isn't just suggested in "Win Win," it's vividly portrayed. Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a struggling attorney whose office is plagued by a clanging furnace, the repair of which poses a daunting bill. We can nod as we relate. I raise and lower our garage door manually even though there's an automatic system in place - gremlins, I guess.
"Win Win" shows people on the margins with overwhelming reason to feel discouragement, but who nonetheless feel a zest for life and family. You just have to probe below the surface. Attorney Flaherty has no intention of being corrupt or to hurt anyone. But he does play fast and loose with the legal rules. This is in his role as a legal caretaker for an elderly client with early dementia issues. The client is played by Burt Young. You remember Burt from "Rocky?" I have a fondness for him mainly because of a movie you have most certainly forgotten. He starred in "Uncle Joe Shannon" which had a soundtrack featuring my childhood musical idol: Maynard Ferguson, trumpet player. Burt and Maynard may have been on the cusp of long-term fame at the time. But the movie did not succeed.
Burt Young acts very well as Flaherty's client in "Win Win." He's a patriarchal old man who has been blessed by riches. In the end he wills his money to the city parks system - God bless him. He overlooks his ne'er-do-well daughter played by Melanie Lynskey. I won't bother stating anymore that a particular actor acted well, because I think everyone acted brilliantly, creating a gem of a movie that deserved to circulate more widely than it evidently did.
It's amazing this far into this blog post that I haven't alluded to the sports element of the movie. Is it a "sports movie?" It comes close but I'm not sure I'd brand it that way. I found it very refreshing to see a movie presenting high school wrestling, the red-haired stepchild of winter prep sports, in such a dedicated way. I have been to many high school wrestling meets. I used to cover the sport for the print media. There's no sport I didn't cover for the print media.
So you might want to know: Do I consider high school wrestling to be under-appreciated? Well, the answer is no. I don't blame the average Joe fan for not being greatly interested in watching. Two guys wrap around each other on a mat while a referee assigns points on various moves. It's rather esoteric. It seems depressing when a kid gets pinned. There is an obsession with weight classes. I found it depressing that so many kids went out of their way to drop weight. I found it depressing when several weight classes would be "forfeited" during the course of a match. Some coaches would hesitate sending out a kid to vie vs. a "superstar" opponent. The fame of these "superstars" would circulate widely in the wrestling realm, just like the reputation of "fast guns" in the old west.
The state wrestling tournament is like a mecca - yes, with almost religious-seeming overtones - for those in the wrestling fraternity. And that's a big part of the problem: it's too much of a fraternity. It can seem too "inside baseball." (Did that term originate with the old Johnny Bench syndicated TV show?)
Giamatti as Flaherty coaches a suburban New Jersey high school team in a losing rut. It's symbolic of course. "Win Win" is about the grind of day-to-day struggles and human failings, even as it shows our potential to rise above in the end.
The Burt Young character has a grandson who shows up out of the blue to startle Flaherty. The grandson is a diffident young man of few words, a boy who has been deeply hurt and made cynical before his time. We see he has a heart of gold, though. He buys Cocoa Puffs for his grandpa. What better symbol of love? Alex Shaffer, a real-life wrestling champion, plays "Kyle."
The assistant coaches add texture to the movie. Bobby Cannavale plays "Terry" who is Mike's best friend. Terry has had much travail come into his life. Like for example, his wife leaving him for the contractor who was hired to remodel the house.
Mike and Terry have the kind of friendship I find most endearing. Remember your best friend from college? It's like that. It has that unconditional quality - we sense the potential for laughter no matter what storm clouds are looming. Cannavale as Terry is enlisted to sit with the coaches at mid-season. Holy cow, it's sort of like "Hoosiers" in which the (stereotypical) town drunk is enlisted, right? Terry has rough edges as a coach but he's much more stable than the Dennis Hopper character.
Let's acknowledge the other assistant coach: "Vigman," played by reliable treadmill actor Jeffrey Tambor. By coincidence, I caught Tambor on the DVD of "Pollock" (about the artist) recently. "Vigman" is an accountant who shares Flaherty's office. Business isn't booming for him either. Life for these everyman souls seems to reflect the fortunes of that wrestling team.
But "Kyle" comes along and provides quite the new wrinkle. In the story he comes from Ohio. He's cutting ties with his druggie mom, or trying to. Kyle is a bleach-blond, zoned-out kid of few but well-chosen words. We're reminded of Sean Penn when he found his footing as an actor. But Alex doesn't have to "act" when wrestling. He's quite the genuine article. In fact he's amazing.
The coaches are amazed in practice when first they become aware of the young man's gifts. The coaches exchange glances just like the coaches in "The Natural" when first the Robert Redford character takes batting practice. The drab and drudgery-filled lives of the coaches, along with the Flaherty family, are about to be pierced by the presence of the extraordinary Kyle.
Kyle wrestles the way "Roy Hobbs" (Redford) hit baseballs. Kyle has every reason to be cynical and discouraged but he unmistakably projects love. With few words. So, is "Win Win" a sports movie? Sort of, but only to an extent. Some movies of this type feel they need to show the heroic characters winning it all at the end. Such was "Hoosiers." Some apparently feel this is too predictable so it's better to show some sort of setback at the end, but with some lessons learned. "Coach Carter" is that type of movie (with rap music impressed on your brain by the end).
"Win Win" goes in its own direction. Kyle never shows any flaws as a wrestler. But he does misbehave because of the swirling disillusionment he feels, i.e. the sense people are letting him down. He gets disqualified. But he doesn't "lose." We can't imagine him losing to anyone. In one scene the coaches are amazed watching a video of Kyle from Ohio. These jaded guys show effervescent joy, thrusting their arms up and shouting as they watch Kyle perform a move they are well familiar with.
Kyle is a reminder that triumph can come out of nowhere. He's a reminder that many of life's triumphs can be unscripted and unexpected. He's a reminder that a simple box of Cocoa Puffs is a gesture of unconditional love.
We become fans of the "New Providence High Pioneers." We become fans of all the actors and actresses in "Win Win." James Berardinelli did not review this movie. I'm most happy to roll up my sleeves and do so.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dome fades, but remember Metropolitan Stadium?

Epochs in sports come and go.
The days of our Metrodome as a big-time sports facility appear numbered. I say "appear" because I feel some denial about it.
The departure of the Vikings from the Dome now seems certain. All we need are for loads of people to get suckered into "electronic pulltabs" and I guess the new shrine (stadium) will be built. Early reports on that seem not encouraging.
The Metrodome has been wonderfully practical. Never described as luxurious or opulent - heaven forbid - it was stretched to include all kinds of athletic action including the first season of the Timberwolves - remember that?
Speaking of remembering, how about old Metropolitan Stadium? Memories of that are a touchstone for boomers here. It was up and running for Twins baseball just as the big wave of boomers was getting interested and pestering their parents to come to games. The Twins seem such an essential part of the fabric of our lives now. Imagine pre-1961 when the Twin Cities were actually minor league. Dave Moore may have missed the old Nicollet Park which housed the old Triple-A Millers. His views weren't exactly shared by a chorus. But the Millers must have had their attributes for entertainment, even if housed in as humble a place as Nicollet Park (apparently was).
The imminent retirement of the Dome pushes the old "Met" back further in our collective memory. It was built before all the sophisticated engineering wizardry that was employed for Target Field, to minimize the effects of our Minnesota weather. Weather could be a bothersome issue for the Met. This became especially apparent when "the second tenant" of that facility, the Vikings, took the field. Bud Grant always emphasized with defensiveness that the Vikes were the second tenant. The Met was built to bring big league baseball here. It's accurate to say there was planned obsolescence. By the time of the Met's last season, it was sort of a nursing home candidate, having become a "bucket of rust," according to one account.
Remember those orange shirts?
We saw big league soccer at the Met. I acquired one of my own orange Minnesota Kicks T-shirts. The shirt was practically a "uniform" for boomers for whom it became fashionable to go to Kicks games, with the sport itself a secondary attraction. These were social spectacles for a restless and sometimes unruly generation. (I could use more pointed language.) Remember coach Freddie Goodwin?
The Met as a football venue had a mixed effect for us Minnesotans. It showed us as hardy folk. The snowmobile suit was common attire. We took some pride in the hardiness. However, PR-wise in the national picture, this image seemed negative. Who in heck would want to live in such a place? Construction of the Dome seemed almost a miracle in how it freed us from such issues. Whereas April baseball games were once problematic, all of a sudden "under the roof" we were in better shape than Baltimore where rain often cascades down in April. All of a sudden in December, we seemed in better shape for football than places like Chicago or Buffalo.
Hardy? We could now enter the Dome as if we were going to the theater. But of course we didn't stay satisfied. The Gophers left, hoping to become more competitive someplace else. Did that work out? The Twins left. Their new home seems quite fine. And the Vikings twisted arms well enough in the legislature and with a pliant Governor Mark Dayton to get the new palace planned. All while football is discussed daily with an increasingly grave and concerned tenor regarding the health issues (for players). If high school kids drop the sport en masse, what kind of future can we envision? It's not a drastic prediction.
But electronic pulltab gambling will evidently pull us through in terms of getting the new stadium. That's the projection anyway, but I wouldn't rule out the state's general fund coming to the rescue.
We might forget, but Metropolitan Stadium predated the Twins by several years. Let's go back to the spring of 1956 when "Ike" Eisenhower was planning a run for re-election. The man who led us on D-Day would serve two terms in the White House. These were the 1950s, a decade we tend to want to romanticize about. Jim Crow laws were going to be wiped out in the South. The Supreme Court demanded integrated seating in the Montgomery AL bus system. You could go to Downtown Chevrolet Co. and take advantage of a closeout sale on 1955 Chevys for - steady yourself - a little over a thousand dollars.
April is "play ball!" time to usher in spring, of course. And April of 1956 saw something shiny and new on the Bloomington MN prairie, set to replace ancient Nicollet Park. It was a whole new ballgame, yes. But it wasn't the Twins. It was still those Minneapolis Millers. It might have been the best Triple-A team around. Willie Mays had a stint there. But we weren't in "the majors" yet. Met Stadium was built to induce a major league owner to come here.
Minneapolis played Wichita in the first game to be played at the Met. Oh my, there was quite the "open" feeling around the Met, especially then. Roger Angell would eventually describe the stadium as an "airy Cyclotron" in a bit of pretentious writing that we might associate with the New Yorker, for which he wrote.
Newspaper scribe Charlie Johnson was important in the efforts to get big league ball. He was prodded by Jerry Moore, president of the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. The construction of "Metropolitan Area Stadium," its name at the start, was step 1 in a process that was going to take time. Moore appointed a baseball committee. The St. Paul Association of Commerce set up a committee to enhance efforts in 1953.
What location for the ballpark? Candidates were weighed and dismissed. The St. Paul interests arranged for an engineering firm, based in Cleveland, to really roll up its sleeves and get this settled. It was their engineer who identified 160 acres of land in the Twin Cities suburb of Bloomington. The site was seen as neutral. Despite St. Paul's involvement, St. Paul-ites grew resistant. They seemed "out of the action." St. Paul wasn't mollified for a long time, or so I've read. The Minneapolis-St. Paul rivalry has always seemed alien to me.
An organization called the Minute Men went after money - private capital. Baseball was restless. The Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee in the early '50s. The St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles. New York City was rife with rumors about its Giants and Dodgers pulling up stakes. Ah, "the west" beckoned.
The Minneapolis committee appeared to have a chance to land the Philadelphia Athletics in the fall of 1954. Efforts toward the new stadium hadn't progressed far enough yet. The Minute Men had trouble reaching their monetary benchmark. What it all came down to, was city leaders with deep pockets just doing what they had to. We heard the name "Cowles" a lot.
The Bloomington land was bought with still no guarantee of landing a team. What quaint times - we're talking pure farmland where the "cyclotron" was going to be built. The groundbreaking occurred when I was six months old. Concrete was first poured in September of 1955. When it became clear the Giants were going to be heading way out to the Pacific Coast, to San Francisco, we began to realize that Washington's Senators were going to be our team. Calvin Griffith, who would be labeled by us boomers as a fossil of a man, culturally anyway, would bring his crusty and curmudgeonly presence here. Calvin wasn't cutting it financially in the nation's capital. Amazing how Minneapolis was able to present more attributes than the east coast power corridor. Amazing.
It was on October 26 of 1960 when the historic vote came by the American League to do three things: establish an expansion team in Los Angeles, move the Senators here, and oddly, to replace the Senators with a new expansion team in D.C. The nation was about to elect JFK president.
The Met's history, pre-Twins
In 1955 we had this "orphan" ballpark materialize on farmland. It was like the Little Engine that Could, not so certain at the start. The Met opened for the Minneapolis Millers in April of '56. Left behind was Nicollet Park which was built in 1896. Nicollet had a right field fence just 279 feet away!
The Met was truly fledgling on that day 1, capable of handling only 20,000 fans, and apparently even that was a stretch. Look toward left field and you still saw farmland. The first fan customers were warned through the media of possible hazards like tools, unfinished steps and randomly positioned machinery. The Millers greeted a record crowd for opening day of 18,366, despite a nip in the air with the temperature at 45 degrees. Many fans wanted to just wander and observe the place. Jerry Moore threw out the first ball. The leadoff hitter for the Millers was Billy Wells, center fielder. Oh, and the national anthem was sung by Robert Rounseville, in town with the New York Apollo Club. My late father Ralph E. Williams - he died just recently at age 96 - was director of the Minneapolis Apollo Club in the 1950s.
Our family would end up visiting Met Stadium several times to enjoy the Twins. Let's always embrace the memories of the "old Met."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, March 4, 2013

Yes! Yes! Yes! Three freethrows bring girls victory

GBB: Tigers 55, Paynesville 54
Talk about dramatic! The Tigers slipped past Paynesville in the opening round of Section 6AA play, lifted at the end by clutch freethrow shooting. It was an unusual situation because Katie Holzheimer would get three shots from the line. That's because she was fouled while attempting a three-pointer (her forte on the court).
A made three-pointer would have brought victory to the Tigers, by one. The foul made the situation a little more complicated. Holzheimer would now have to make three separate shots. She would have to be cool and composed at the line. She was performing in front of a friendly home crowd.
Up goes the first attempt. It's good! Up goes the second. Bullseye! One more make and MACA would own the lead at one. Eureka! The ball goes through the twine and MACA is up 55-54. That was the final score.
The game was played on the last day of February. So, that means? We're into "March Madness." We're also anticipating the spring season with its reprieve from the oppressive winter conditions.
Morris Area Chokio Alberta and Paynesville are South Division teams. The Tigers looked to be in a good position at halftime, up 33-28 in this quarter-final affair. Paynesville outdid the Tigers 26-22 in the second half. Holzheimer bailed out the Tigers by re-injecting some of that "mo" into the Tigers' cause. Fans won't soon forget it. MACA came out of the night with 17 wins on the season, ready for semis play.
The Tigers surged early against the green-clad Bulldogs. They fought to hold their own the rest of the game, really. The five-point lead at halftime really didn't look secure. The Tigers scrambled to try to find a formula that would right their ship. The teams played very evenly over the last eight minutes. The lead bounced back and forth. It was up to Holzheimer, the Tigers' long-range shooting whiz, to be the hero at the end. Paynesville did have a last-gasp shot attempt but it was no-go.
In overcoming Paynesville, MACA had to overcome a hot-shooting individual name of Brooke Wuertz. Wuertz connected on five 3-pointers in the first half alone! She would hit no more, but she was game-high in scoring with her 20 points. Kayla Schaefer scored 16 points for the Bulldogs.
Holzheimer scored 14 points but she only had one 3-pointer. MaKenzie Smith had two 3-pointers and Beth Holland had one. The team numbers in 3's were four of 13. In total field goals: 19 of 56. MACA needed its excellent 13-for-16 freethrow numbers.
Smith and Beth Holland each scored 16 points to top the MACA list. Holzheimer with her 14 points was next on the list. Nicole Strobel scored four, Abbie Olson and Kaitlin Vogel two each, and Becca Holland one. Smith was tops in rebounds with seven followed by Strobel and Olson each with four, and four Tigers each with three rebounds: Beth Holland, Becca Holland, Holzheimer and Moira McNally.
Becca Holland was sharp with her passing and finished with five assists. Smith, Holzheimer and Strobel each dished out two assists. Strobel led in steals with three followed by Becca Holland with two.
Paynesville finished its season with a 13-11 record.
Boys hoops: NL-Spicer 69, Tigers 59
A long-range shot by Joey Dreier seemed like a dagger for the MACA boys as they tried to turn back Dreier and his New London-Spicer mates Tuesday (2/26), here. This dagger happened in the closing seconds of regulation time. The Wildcats seemed on the ropes. They needed three points to tie the score and force overtime. Dreier took aim at the basket with five seconds left. Could the Tigers hang on? Alas they couldn't.
Dreier was a clutch performer and his shot proved true. Infused with new life, NL-Spicer carried that feeling of momentum into overtime nicely. The overtime in fact belonged to the visiting Wildcats. The final score was 69-59 as the orange and black faithful had to go home feeling somewhat deflated.
This game would never have seen overtime had MACA succeeded with freethrows better in the late stages. Meanwhile the Wildcats were shooting freethrows like it was their home floor. For the game the 'Cats made 20 of 23 tries from the line. That speaks volumes.
The Tigers seemed to fade as this game wore on. The first half was upbeat indeed for the orange and black. Coach Mark Torgerson's squad owned a 28-19 lead at halftime. But the 'Cats took on luster in the second half to carve out a 38-29 advantage. Then came the forgettable overtime for MACA. Ouch. The Tigers nevertheless came out of the night with a 17-7 record - most encouraging with post-season awaiting.
The Tigers led by four points with 18 seconds left in regulation. A little nudge from freethrow shooting, and this game would have gone in the win column for MACA. It wasn't to be, and Dreier salvaged the Wildcats' fortunes which then improved even more for overtime (with a 12-2 scoring advantage). Dreier had 18 points for the game, plus he collected eleven rebounds. Aaron Ruter put in 19 points (and picked up five assists) to lead the visitor.
Ruter wasn't game-high with his points. That distinction went to an MACA Tiger, Austin Dierks, whose total was 24 points. His ten rebounds gave him double-double distinction. Chandler Erickson put in 12 points while Lincoln Berget had eight and Nic Vipond six. Then we have John Tiernan with four, Tyler Henrichs and Logan Manska each with two, and Jake Torgerson with one.
"Ouch" again: The Tigers were zip of eleven in three-point shots! In total field goals their numbers were 23 of 57. In freethrows: 13 of 22. Dierks was tops in rebounds with ten followed by Tiernan with seven and Erickson with six. Erickson picked up seven assists to lead there, while Vipond had three. Dierks stole the ball three times.
Girls basketball: Sauk Centre 61, Tigers 29
The regular season ended with kind of a thud for the MACA girls. It's only a minor blemish in terms of effect on won-lost mark. But the score disparity was discouraging. The Tigers took on an obviously high-quality Sauk Centre team on Saturday, Feb. 23. The Streeters were sailing atop the West Central-North Conference. They kept on sailing, handing our GBB Tigers a 61-29 loss.
So the regular season ended for coach Dale Henrich's crew with a record of 16-9 (12-4 league). Those are the upbeat won-lost numbers the team carried into post-season on Thursday. The loss to Sauk Centre was on the road.
Katie Holzheimer continued her strides on the all-time three-pointer list for MACA. Already the career leader, Holzheimer added three more 3's to her total. Those were the only long-range makes by MACA in this game. The Tigers were three of eleven in 3's, nine of 46 in total field goals and eight of 15 in freethrows.
Holzheimer led the Tigers' scoring with 12 points. Beth Holland scored nine followed by Nicole Strobel with three, Moira McNally and Kaitlin Vogel each with two, and MaKenzie Smith with one. Smith and Holzheimer each pulled down five rebounds. Rebekah Aanerud came through with two assists, and Holzheimer led in steals with three.
Sauk Centre came out of this game with enviable won-lost numbers of 23-2 overall and 14-0 in league.
The Tigers got buried 38-18 in the first half.
The Streeters made five 3-pointers led by Elizabeth Ellens with two. Ellens was joined in double figures scoring by Macy Weller and Jena Klaphake.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com