Reviewed by Allan Maurer
was one of our favorite movies before we moved to Durham.
written by Rob Shelton, it features the "poetry of sports and
sex," one reviewer says and we agree..
It is, really,
though, about the Zen of baseball and the Zen of sex. It's about
letting go. It's about not letting go. It's about BE HERE NOW.
It's about the
"Show," and how to get there. Part of what makes some
stories work on a believable basis is inside information -- here,
that professional baseball players call the big leagues "The
Show." It reminds me of learning that C.I.A. operatives called
their agency "The Company," although some D.C. insiders
once told me they had never heard the term used. It doesn't matter
when you're inhabiting a story. The inside dope acts as springs
for your suspension of disbelief.
A whole other
subtext about "The Show," underlies the films scenes,
whether the "show" in the bedroom or the "show"
in the ballpark, or the "show" behind the bar when Tim
Robbin's character decides he'll take a swing at Crash and ends
up thoroughly humiliated. Isn't that a Zen-like message, the wunderkind
hero needs arrogance forcibly removed before he can succeed at his
Herculean tasks? Ah, the mythic underpinnings the heroes journey
take some strange twists in the modern era.
These may be
the best performances ever by Kevin Costner as "Bulls"
catcher Crash Davis, and Susan Sarandon as a baseball-crazed English
teacher and poetic soul, Annie Savoy. Crash was a real Bulls ballplayer,
who, like Costner, Shelton and Sarandon, have their names carved
in bricks outside the old Bulls stadium.
Durham" is about more than baseball, though. You don't have
to be a baseball fan to enjoy it. It's about passion for what one
does, for what one loves, and for certain games everyone plays.
No threesome ever had more fun and frustration all in one movie.
Watching Crash and Annie miss their sexual cues early on makes me
less embarassed at missing some in my own life.
We live half
a block from that history-soaked old stadium. Look over the fence
past that fire practice tower and you'll see our onetime tobacco
warehouse, now urban loft condos. Every so often, I tried to figure
out just where Annie sat the first time we see her in the stadium.
The film provides an honest, if perhaps too pretty, snapshot of
the Durham tobacco warehouse district, with its distinctive Romanesque
architecture, woody streets, and blue collar feel.
But, as we said,
we loved this movie even before we moved to Durham. The whole film
is poetic and masculine at the same time, not the easiest combination
in the world to pull off. Shelton did some time in the minors and
knows his subject. The baseball subtext is convincing and compelling.
The sight of
Tim Robbins in the outfit Annie suggests to focus his inner eye
will never, ever, leave you...and I'm not sure that's a good thing.
If you see some dreamy older fella sitting in the Durham Atheltic
Park watching some imaginary movie, that's probably me, wishing
Annie Savoy would come to the show
©copyright Allan Maurer 2005
The Bull Durham DVD
is a subjective, often hilarious, but also touching autobiographical
meditation on the allure of tobacco and its troubling legacy for
the state of North Carolina and Ross McElwee's family. It's about
loss and preservation. It's about family, addiction and denial.
But most of
all, it's about filmmaking - home movie, documentary, and fiction
filmmaking. McElwee deals with the legacy of an obscure Hollywood
melodrama called "Bright Leaf," which is a type of tobacco.
It starred Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal and he believed it was
based on his great-grandfather's life.
really, the legacy of Ross McElwee's life, so it is perfectly appropriate
for him to find a direct connection between his family and a Hollywood
explores the notion of legacy - what one generation passes down
to the next - and how this can be a particularly complicated topic
when the legacy under discussion is a Southern one and is tied to
tobacco. It certainly explores the McElwee legacies of family and
of film, his own and the somewhat elusive connection to Hollywood's
Patricia Neal, reminding us of his first film, "Sherman's March,"
in which he managed to snare some footage of Burt Reynolds in Charlotte.
Neal, like all aging movie starts, retains a charismatic strength
on film, depsite physical fraility and the lingering effects of
the stroke she had years ago.
also has echoes of "Sherman's March," in which he waylaid
Burt Reynolds as he appeared in a film in Charlotte. "We're
good friends now," Ross said when he received the Distinguished
Film-maker Award' from the Carolina Film & Video Festival in
Greensboro in 2006.
The whole notion of film and filming and their dual nature as illusion
and captured reality comes under scrutiny in "Bright Leaves,"
as Ross films his own son and ponders what it means to him, recalls
filming his father and how the images do not keep him as alive as
he had once hoped.
The nature of film and act of filming are everywhere part of the
subject here and always have been in his work. Here these themes
converge like rivers meeting at a waterfall. Not as any sort of
academic exercise, but as the next ring in a tree's growth, as a
natural expansion that encloses what went before.
since "Sherman's March" has been something of a cinemaemersion.
This is a life diary, and "Bright Leaves" is the latest,
but not likely the last entry.
Leaves" resonates for me because I've seen all of the entries,
all of McElwee's films a number of times over the years. This mature
and wise movie essay rang bells of memory for me, as I recalled
seeing "Sherman's March" for the first time at a Charlotte
film and video festival many, many years ago.
I later met
three of the women featured in that film under interesting circumstances.
I sat on the steps of a Charlotte townhouse and discussed poetry
with Charlene Swansea. And I've walked all the territory Ross covers
in "Bright Leaves," from the Duke Mansion in Charlotte
to the Duke Chapel in Durham. It resonates, with me.
But I'd love
this film if none of the personal elements were factors, and many
others have. He's inspired an intire sub-genre of ironic, first-person
documentaries, although none, perhaps, quite so first person as
If wanted to
do one of those quickie reviews of this film, I'd just say: I laughed
a lot at this wry and wise movie. I bet you will too.
An entire generation
of others follows in McElwee's filmsteps.
Allan Maurer 2005