I was in Durham earlier this month, and my gracious hosts sent me on my way with a copy of Bull Durham, the 1988 baseball film shot on location and starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins, and featuring William O’Leary, and I’m glad they did.
I don’t watch enough movies to make for a legitimate writer of movie reviews– a sketchy draft writeup on Slap Shot has been gathering e-dust since my first viewing last fall– but I know enough to know an enjoyable movie when I see one, and Bull Durham is that. Though probably to a lesser extent, it, along with 1984’s The Natural, establishes the archetypical standard for the splurge of popular baseball movies that would follow. Most obviously influenced (although I don’t know if this is practically possible, given the time it probably takes to take a feature film from conception to screen) was the Major League series, the first of which appeared the following year. Wild pitchers, grumpy managers, superstitious players, goofy mascots, chattering bench coaches, hopeless radio announcers, old players looking for one last chance, and women who try to control them all. Predating the rise of sports media supersaturation, the film nevertheless displays an overt consciousness of the way things were and were quickly going:
Somewhere between the Homeric epic that is The Natural and the full-on comedy that is Major League sits Bull Durham, which is a nice story that will make you laugh but also will make you smile, and, moreso than any memorable images or acting performances, it’s the writing that really shines here. (Appropriately, it was nominated for an Oscar for best writing of a screenplay.) There are plenty of great movies– comedies and dramas– featuring other sports, but baseball seems to provide the most consistently viable vehicle for stories with broader appeal. If nothing else, Bull Durham answers that question asked by so many: What exactly goes on in those meetings on the pitcher’s mound?
ALDLAND Silent Film Series