Thursday, July 8, 2010

You’re Seeing a Whole Team of Psychiatrists, Aren’t You? Field of Dreams

| by Justin Thomas |

Sap alert. I’m talking a forest of maple trees worth of sap. You’ve been warned. Investment bankers can stop reading right now and get back to being robber barons because there’s nothing here for an investment banker.

I didn’t handle well news of John Candy’s death. The cover of People following the death said it better than I could ever hope to: the sad death of a funny man. Without him around, Del in Planes, Trains and Automobiles becomes even more difficult to watch, and I’m not talking about them in bed trying to account for the location of the pillows. Del says, “When I’m dead and buried, all I’ll leave behind are some shower curtain rings that didn’t fall down, some legacy.” With a dead John Candy, the line carries more weight because I wonder whether he ever knew how well people liked him. There are stories from those who knew him that would suggest he didn’t know he was liked and watching him perform as Del is gut wrenching because I wonder when he’s acting and when he’s being John.

People who make movies have the best job in the world regardless of whether they know it or they’re in it for the money because all they need is cash. They get to put on a screen, for all those wonderful people in the dark, a story those wonderful people can use to look at their lives to make sense of them. Okay, so when I say wonderful people I really mean wonderful me, and I’m not really wonderful. Movies, their stories, their characters and their ideas are the first tool to which I run to make sense of life when it goes a little wonky. People who make movies get to have a legacy, something that will remain here when they’re gone, a legacy slightly more important than peddling shower curtains or marketing hard drives. Their legacy is they made something that mattered. Green with envy of the people behind the camera, I tells ya.

At this point another warning: I don’t care about structure, character arcs, development or anything else when it comes to Field of Dreams. None of the typical would-be “analysis” from a half-witted, scruffy-looking wannabe screenwriter means anything with Field of Dreams, not that it really does when I’m talking about structure, character arcs, et cetera anyway.

One more time for you investment bankers: get back to milking your fellow man for more money. Where I’m going you won’t want to follow.

When Ray hears the voice, sees his vision and starts to go down the path; I see him and wish it were me. Not actually building a baseball field in the middle of my farm but being able to recognize the universe opening up, just a bit and just for me, to show me something. I wish I could believe in something so wholeheartedly I’d throw every caution to the wind to see where the path goes because the path might lead somewhere incredible. Am I a Hippie like Ray? No. I wish I were and wonder whether I’ve missed signs Ray saw in the movie. I know, I know, it’s a movie, shut up. I warned you.

Doc Graham says being a ballplayer without getting to hit was like getting close to his dream before watching it pass by like a stranger in the crowd. I get that. I get coming close, so close I could taste it, to have things not turn out as I’d hoped. I don’t believe that’s unique to me among the six billion people on the planet, but Doc does something I could never do, which is understand his dream will have to remain his dream. He doesn’t live under the oppressive weight of regret, and while he hasn’t forgotten about that moment, the moment doesn’t control his existence. That’s a lesson. That’s not a movie moment.

Want to know what you do at Fenway Park when you head to the concession stand? You get your best Darth Vader voice going and say, “dog and a beer,” just like Terrance Mann after Ray kidnaps him to take him to a game. Ah, the greater glory of the Fenway Frank...

Where do Hippies fight on the frontline against the tyranny of censorship? Iowa, of course, because one or two book burning Nazi cows live there, or so the movie would have you believe. The personal moment comes in the field house at night, the town together, involved, trying to figure things out. That actually happens and the visuals on screen take me to a specific place in my memory of experiences lived. There’s a shot, after Shoeless Joe’s first night comes to a close, where he heads out to the corn field with fog hanging around the lights. That actually happens, I actually experienced that fog, after the eight o’clock little league game came to an end before heading off dirty and sweaty to my house, a wall air conditioner, a can of Coke and Johnny’s monologue. Somehow they constructed a shot, just for me, that brings forth one of my favorite memories of childhood. Is it Sherif Ali’s entrance in Lawrence? Absolutely not unless you were sitting in front of that air conditioner with me.

Terrance Mann gives that speech about baseball, that wonderful speech about baseball that ties it to America and I think of it as another moment just for me. Baseball fan? Check. Would-have-been tweed-jacket-with-suede-patches-wearing history professor? Check. What’s the difference between a moment in a movie that makes sense and a moment in a movie that changes a person? I used his speech in my college entrance essay.

If you build it he will come? A chance for a father and son to bridge the gap between this world and the next and resolve their conflict through a simple game of catch? Well, that’s just about the most precise thing a son could want.

Still with me? You schmuck. Yes. That’s what Field of Dreams means to me. Do you need to know all of that? No, but it needs to be written to get to the point.

Movies are important. They’re another tool through which a person can look at life and try to make sense of it. The medium allows for both works of art and disposable entertainment, but when a movie works, if it’s well made, resonates and helps a person better understand something, then it completely realizes the potential of the medium. Future generations will use movies to determine how we saw ourselves and that’s too important an obligation to not care, to not get worked up over, to not talk about when something hits as hard as Field of Dreams hit me. I don’t believe we’re living in the great era of the medium and I hope, truly and honestly hope, someone wrestles control of the medium away from the industry apathetic to the idea of consistently making movies that can do what movies can do. Aspiring filmmakers who get it should keep working because audiences need them.

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