Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stars and Pinstripes

Off topic and originally posted at Sidelined.

The Bronx is Burning is a 2007 eight episode ESPN series (yeah, they make drama too. Who knew?) about the famous 1977 Yankees. Due to the tyranny of distance, my interest in baseball is casual but there's alot I find attractive about the game, and the mythology that surrounds it. By accident of birth I'm pouring over economy rates and not outs rather than RBIs and BB/Ks but I think the pall of being a long suffering Cubs fan would suit me fine. (Hey, give it time and the Newcastle Knights might yet build an equally impressive history of despair.) Like any show it may add something to be intimate with the subject area, but The Bronx is Burning is such good television, the less well-educated like me and even the sports-averse could go with the flow.

Five elements power the story. The first has to be the rhythms of baseball itself, including the obligatory dug out blow ups, the slides and collisions on bases, the tense innings where everything is in slow mo, punctuated by bursts of chaos. If you've seen any baseball film you know them.

Three characters set the pace. Oliver Platt is George Steinbrenner, Yankees' owner, and John Turturro is Billy Martin, Yankees' manager. Both in real life is seems are/were, at any one moment, about fifteen seconds from throwing someone, anyone, out a window. If you just imagine the actors -- all solicitous curves versus all crazy eyes and grinding jaws -- that tells a story in itself and both actors are as you would expect, pretty perfect. Steinbrenner developed a habit of firing and re-hiring Martin over their long association, a history turned to the noble use of selling cruddy beer in this ad. (YouTube)

Into this already rather volcanic mix is thrown the person of Reggie Jackson (Daniel Sunjata, unknown to me before this but more than holds his own. Extremely unfortunately he's a 9/11 conspiracy kook in real life which prevents me from being too enthused about him but he is, I begrudgingly admit, good in this.) The swaggering and mercurial hero brought in by Steinbrenner to put "meat in the seats", which he does but with many headlines and bruised egos along the way.

Then there is New York City itself, which you could argue is always the main character of any film, TV show, book or song set there. The ball game is the majority of the story, with cameos from the other parts of a city fraying at the edges economically and socially: the Son of Sam murders, issues like frequent power outages and the mayoral race. The police investigation and media treatment of the Son of Sam is the main b-storyline, and the dramatised scenes are woven powerfully with evocative archival footage. Although I don't like to use the word "entertaining" to describe things about David Berkowitz, it has to be said the contemporary vox pops on the streets of NYC are fascinating.

Every half-decent sports film ever made is fully about the sport but also about much more. The Bronx is Burning satisfies on all levels and, if you can find a copy in Australia, comes heartily recommended. And it's based on a book, which I really must seek out.

Not alot on it from YouTube, except this "sales Tape" promo thing:

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