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).

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jackie Robinson in movie "42" goes beyond "Roy Hobbs"

Here we are on Biopic Avenue again. Thanks to our Morris Public Library for having "42" available on DVD when the movie still seems fresh. The subject is Jackie Robinson. He is a hero out of American history. We feel justifiable reverence.
Chadwick Boseman is a very believable Jackie Robinson in "42." We see baseball teams traveling by train like in "The Natural" with Robert Redford. "The Natural" gave us the fictional New York Knights. Redford's character played on an all-white team.
A movie asking us to feel nostalgic about such times should perhaps be criticized on that basis. "The Natural" is a period movie that seeks to exude charm. But blacks need not apply in baseball. The movie sought to make no points about race, of course. It's also protected by Redford's well-known reputation as a liberal or progressive.
The aim in "The Natural" was storytelling, in a fairy tale kind of way. Hobbs has almost supernatural baseball prowess, that is when he's behaving himself (and sticking with his childhood sweetheart). The movie "42" about Jackie Robinson easily reminds us of "The Natural." But it's about the real-life transition in baseball from its all-white world.
Cinema approaches history
Hollywood applies its well-honed biopic formula. Nothing really wrong with that, but anything formulaic from Hollywood deserves to be knocked down a notch or two. Fortunately this was already accomplished by the movie "Walk Hard" with John C. Reilly.
No one would ever satirize the movie "42." But the movie "Walk the Line" about Johnny Cash showed the biopic formula in its tired form. A certain element in Hollywood began to recognize a problem with such movies. It was too easy to hype them at the time of their release. That's because we were in awe of the person having inspired the movie. We loved being reminded of the person and of the trials and triumphs of that person.
But the movie should be viewed on separate, objective terms.
Johnny Cash was not nearly as sympathetic as Jackie Robinson. I can hardly think of a way to feel sympathetic about Cash at all, except to say the man had musical talent. Congratulations. Cash's story was really just one of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll.
Biopics show the human failings of our heroes. But Cash's human failings were too much. Having a string of hit songs doesn't make an indelible contribution to the advancement of humanity. John C. Reilly played the Cash-like character in "Walk Hard," a movie that was an eviscerating satire.
We should always watch a new biopic with some thought to "Walk Hard." Ask: Is this really a good movie or are we just feeling reverence toward the subject matter? Up until "Walk Hard," it seemed that a biopic about a revered figure, like "Ray" (about Ray Charles), got Oscar buzz out of the starting gate. The lead actors were really glorified impersonators, weren't they? Impersonators don't occupy a high rung in the entertainment world.
Sorry if I'm belittling the efforts of such actors.
Biopics remind us of important stages in our history. The problem with "42," perhaps, is that this story is too well-known and celebrated. I'd appreciate more a movie about someone whose role until now may have been under-appreciated.
In the final analysis, "42" is a movie appealing to baseball fans. There is a train scene almost identical to a scene in "The Natural." We see some wide-eyed boys observing as a train bearing ballplayers is about to depart. The hero character tosses a ball to the boys. In "42," the boy who catches the ball is supposed to be Ed Charles. The boy is inspired and goes on to his own big league career, climaxed by the 1969 World Series. Ed Charles was with the New York Mets who beat the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 Series.
Boomer-age fans like me can only read about the 1947 season and Robinson's breakthrough. It happened too long ago. We can only read about the behavior of bigot types like Ben Chapman who would hurl verbal epithets across the field. Baseball was far more civilized by the time we started following the sport. The '47 season exists only in books and movies for us. The 1969 season with its "miracle Mets" and Ed Charles was reality for us. We watched mesmerized as those long-struggling Mets, who were born as a forlorn unit in 1962, climbed to the top.
Tip of the hat to '69 Mets
Maybe a movie should be made about the 1969 New York Mets. The team included Jerry Koosman whose background was in West Central Minnesota. The big lefthanded pitcher was a native of Appleton and graduated from the West Central School of Agriculture in Morris. We had a big parade out here after the '69 Series. I was in the high school band. Halsey Hall came out for the festivities. Hall was our counterpart to Red Barber.
Baseball period movies always show us those broadcasters. Barber was at the mike for the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers. Actor John G. McGinley charms with his understated old-timer phrasings. Our Halsey Hall in Minnesota was the charming older man with lots of old stories. He had been associated with the old Minneapolis Millers.
Us Minnesotans waited patiently for big league ball. We might forget that Metropolitan Stadium stood out there on the Bloomington prairie for five years before the Twins were finally born. The Millers played there in the interim. We all knew Met Stadium wasn't built for the Millers.
The Twins came into being amidst euphoric fanfare. Halsey Hall entered the broadcast booth and carved out an identity just as firm as any of the early Twins players. Hall came out here to Morris for the Koosman festivities. I'll never forget how he remarked about Koosman's "key to the city." He wondered it if opened the establishment across the street which was of course the bar/liquor store. Those were the times when we liked humor based on excess alcohol consumption.
The Mets filled the void caused by the departure of the Dodgers from New York. The Dodgers were Robinson's team. They were also the team that beat our Twins in the 1965 World Series, by which time they were established in Los Angeles.
The number title of "42" gives it something in common with the movie about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. The movie "61*, yes, with an asterisk, is primarily about Maris. This period baseball movie is about the early 1960s. The moral of this story is that it's terrific to grow up as an ordinary boy from the Midwest, marry your high school sweetheart and cuss about the predatory New York City media. Mantle was the contrasting character who sank into vice. In the end, though, all is right with the world. This is the feeling rendered by biopics. We reach for a tissue.
The movie "61*" shows us Elston Howard, catcher, who was the first African-American Yankee. Howard was derided by some as being too restrained, too willing to roll with the punches. Vic Power probably should have been the first African-American Yankee. The powers-that-be decided the time wasn't right just yet, especially for someone like Power who seemed to have too much "personality." 
Power did eventually break through. He was one of the most interesting Twins players, with his flashy style at first base, fielding grounders one-handed. Had Power been given his opportunity earlier, he might be in the Hall of Fame. It's too bad Power wasn't still with the Twins for the '65 Series. I'd love seeing him get a hit or two off Sandy Koufax.
Koufax became a great pitcher not because he learned to adjust his mechanics, rather because umpires started calling the high fastball a strike. David Halberstam informed us of this in his book "October 1964."
The early Twins seemed to have their share, I felt, of black players. Earl Battey was our outstanding catcher. "Mudcat" Grant was our pitching ace for the '65 pennant-winner.
Void grew in New York City
New York City was abandoned not only by the Brooklyn Dodgers, but also by the New York Giants. Strange. The West Coast beckoned. But it was hard imagining New York City losing two-thirds of its big league baseball assets. As kids we heard about those old and defunct Dodgers and Giants of New York. We heard about Bobby Thomson's famous home run. Years later we got the revelation that sign-stealing (cheating) corrupted that season. So much for "the good old days."
I remember talking to a service veteran in Morris, initials D.E., who had seen a game at the Dodgers' Ebbets Field when he was in the service. I asked him about that storied stadium. "It was a dump," he said. So much for those romanticized older teams.
I'm not sure about our impulse to romanticize that time when the racial barrier came down. It was ugly that the barrier existed in the first place. Today it seems African-Americans are more attracted to basketball and football anyway. Baseball should maybe be begging African-Americans.
I recently wrote a post about the famous Armistice Day blizzard in Minnesota. It's hard to realize that storm, which happened when my father was 24 years old, was a full seven years before blacks were allowed to play big league baseball. How could society accept that reality? This wasn't 1930s Mississippi.
I'm not sure I want young people to see "42" and to see all the backwardness and ignorance. My generation is fully aware. The boomers were pretty disgusted about racial obstacles.
So, should we enjoy "42?" I suppose we should, because it's a solidly-made movie albeit with the biopic formula. It's not a waste of time. We're reminded of our own aging when we see Harrison Ford playing a self-consciously old man (Branch Rickey). Halsey Hall was the "old man" when we were kids. Now we can relate to his place in life. We have wisdom from our years.
But we aren't inclined to want to visit the nearest bar/liquor store. The drinking age was lowered for us in 1973. But we ended up saying "thanks but no thanks."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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