for 1 June 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.
He No Batter
-- Question the first: Why discuss the lingering effects of the film "Bad News Bears" without ever examining the film itself?
-- When oh when will someone (such as your insightful self) ever examine the 1970's "road" movies (Aloha Bobby & Rose, Vanishing Point, Badlands, Two-Lane Blacktop, Sugarland Express, Dirty Mary & Crazy Larry... the trend finally petering out into camp, bad wigs and stuntwork with "Smoky and the Bandit"). This was a huge factor in the first half of the decade.
Well, it's a bit of an imposition to discuss a film when you don't have a self-selected audience of people in the mood for a close reading. Either they've seen the movie and don't need the reminders, or they haven't and will be confused and irritated by your going over the details. But here's my Bad News Bears koan: The real key character in the movie is Muhammed.
As for seventies road/chase/smokey movies, you may be on to something. Stay tuned, good buddy.
In yet another of those weird web-related synergies, the recent death of director Michael Ritchie seems to be getting an unexpected amount of attention. I wrote a brief obit/retrospective to share with friends, only to hear many of the same sentiments on NPR's "Saturday Edition" that weekend.
Strangely, the film I spent the most time discussing is the film NPR's Scott Simon and Elvis Mitchell completely ignored the infamous "Bad News Bears." So it seemed appropriate for my favorite webzine to fill in that gap.
While I enjoyed the piece, I'd like to add a few comments of my own on the film and the decade which produced it. Please indulge me while I quote my own Ritchie obit:
... ["The Bad News Bears" represents] the rise and fall of the Great Seventies Sports Movie (GSSM), a distinct sub-genre that produced some of the best films of that decade.
Prior to the Seventies, sports films tended to be rose-tinted biopics of legendary heroes (such as "Jim Thorpe, All American" eliding nimbly over the great man's real struggles and casting famously non-Native American Burt Lancaster, the sappy "Pride of the Yankees" and the insultingly bowdlerized "Babe Ruth Story" starring a hopelessly miscast Jim Bendix) or slap-sticky, idiot comedies ("It Happens Every Spring" or "Pigskin Parade," for example). But "The Longest Yard" (1975) introduced a whole new style of sports film, using sports as a metaphor for the social structures that demand sacrifice and performance while stifling individualism. The archetypal GSSM can be identified as possessing the following elements:
A cocky, brash or arrogant hero, whose skills no longer justify his or her boasting
An avaricious villain, who has no interest in the game itself beyond profits or wining
A team that pushes itself beyond its limitations to approach greatness
A back-stage or off-the-field relationship that creates tensions during the contest itself
Looks familiar, of course, but there's another property that distinguishes these films such as "The Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars and Motor Kings" (1976), "Slap Shot" (1977) and the last of the GSSMs, "North Dallas Forty" (1978). That property is:
THEY LOSE THE BIG GAME.
Why is that so important? Why is it, in fact, essential? Because otherwise, the story becomes a fairy tale that justifies the sport as a legitimate, humane institution as an acceptable means of expressing self-worth.
But the GSSM was not interested in legitimating the social structure - in fact, it's goal was the exact opposite. The whole point of the GSSM is that the social structure is inherently oppressive, cruel and dehumanizing. The protagonists must ultimately choose between personal fulfillment OR victory they are mutually exclusive goals.
"The Bad News Bears" (1976) helped to create the template that would soon destroy the sports film genre, but it's not that film's fault that later producers chose to cut the heart out of the story and peddle endless retreads of the first two acts. Seen today, the film still has considerable punch in its depiction of kids as angry, defiant objects of parental and peer pressure. These kids are weird in precisely the way real kids are weird they are not cute ragamuffins whose problems are magically solved by winning the game. The humor and there's plenty, much of it cruel derives as often as not from the kids' befuddled reactions to the ridiculous expectations shoved upon them. The climax is perhaps even more surprising in retrospect, since any rewrite made today would loose it in the first draft.
"The Bad News Bears" was too successful for it's and Ritchie's own good, spawning two increasingly imbecilic sequels (and a short-lived TV series) which traded on the baser comedy of contemporary teen fare (such as "Meatballs") rather than the original's colder, harsher vision. Combined with the simplification of the story arc that Hollywood subsequently imposed on later sports movies, "Bears" is now tainted with the stigma of ushering in a sea of trite crap, an accusation that is unfortunate and unfair. (Personally, I've always blamed "The Natural" after all, in the book, Roy Hobbs STRIKES OUT!)
Ritchie would later participate in tarnishing his own legacy "Wildcats" (1986) is practically the text-book inversion of what made "Bears" brilliant but in 1993 Ritchie was tapped by HBO to make "The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader Murdering Mom," with Holly Hunter in the title role. Ritchie used the opportunity to revisit his early work, combining the hypocrisy of organized competitions that preach "All American" values while practicing all manner of underhanded vice, with the manipulation of children to justify the needs of their parents. The themes of "Smile" and "Bad News Bears" are revisited in the post-Reagan nineties, but are now distilled through the lens of the popular media. Using a framing device that echoes Ritchie's cunning take on TV news and political debates from "The Candidate," "Mom" is presented as flashbacks (on film) inter-cut with Hunter's appearance on an unnamed TV talk show (shot on video). It's a canny use of literal media manipulation to explore the issue of image over reality and the drive to be perceived as successful regardless of the personal or human cost.
Like all his best films, "Mom" won prizes for its script.
Hope you enjoy these remarks as much as I enjoyed yours.
Thanks, Robert. It's true that The Bad News Bears has been spoiled in public memory by a long and awful line of knockoffs that cut most of the original's third act and all of its acidic insights. Few movies have been so poorly served by the vagaries of reputation.
I am surprised that the crack Suck research team neglected to mention that seminal actor of the late 70's and early 80's, Jackie Early Haley. Subsequent roles in Breaking Away and Losin' It, cemented his role as the symbol of the army jacket wearing, stoner tough guy. I only wonder where his careerpath has lead him...
Thanks, David. In my opinion Haley didn't come into his own until a few years later. In The Bad News Bears he was still taller than most of his castmates. Only in later life did his diminutive stature become apparent, and this was one figure whose status as an angry guy depended on his also being short. But The Bad News Bears certainly stands as Vic Morrow's greatest performance at least until the Twilight Zone decapitation footage is made public.
I greatly fear the notion of the 70's being a turning point has become GenX's answer to yuppie self-infatuation. There is, fortunately, no equivalent to the Summer of Love for those of us who grew up then (though in retrospect I did miss a great opportunity with a girl from the Keystone State when I was 14). Please, no Abraham Simpson-esque "when I was a boy" lines. The world is full enough as it is.
You're certainly full of brilliant insights and penetrating questions lately, aren't you, Rob? First you break the news that Suck is having financial problems under an assumed name on Plastic, now you spot our mouth-watering seventies jones!
We have no desire to replace the tyranny of the sixties with a new tyranny of the seventies. The notion of the seventies as a cultural turning point, bogus as it clearly is, is out there, and we wanted to note that in all the catalogues of watershed movies and events from that time, The Bad News Bears which is the only one we can distinctly recall actually being a watershed never gets mentioned. We appreciate the underappreciated.
Hit & Run 05.24.01
What an odd juxtaposition of stories, first about a woman who doesn't exist who has leukemia, but did not lose her life savings in high tech stocks, and a supposed real man with cancer (but not leukemia?) who did lose his life savings.
I unfortunately do exits, fully expect to die but appear healthy at the moment, and only lost a little money that I never really had in the first place.
While the story of Kaycee is intriguing for it's implications with marketing, it is also equally compelling for it's implications with cultism. If the plot had not been exposed, she could have risen from the dead and we could all reset our calanders. Truely this shows how sad that P.T. Barnum was born so far ahead of his time.
Before you blithely invoke P.T. Barnum as America's Bamboozler In Chief, take a look at this story in Reason, which makes a pretty good case that a) Barnum was actually an unusually scrupulous businessman within his particular field, and b) he never actually said, "There's a sucker born every minute."
See? You truly do learn something new every day!
I'm sure if you had the power to give people cancer then you would certainly have the power to give all the disgruintled Web workers their jobs and Aeron chairs back so that they would shut the hell up.
Thanks, fp37tk. Suck's powers for good are too rarely appreciated.
Boy, oh, boy. Did H&R 5.24.01 bring back a wonderful memory.
It was back in '96, near the time that I was first introduced to the wonders of suck.com by my wonderful boss at Turner Online (sic), Marian English. We shared our office space with a sister on-line organization called "spiv.com", which was one of those "sxxx.com" cool-site wannabe bastard babies that inspired much of your earlier satire.
"spiv" ran an ongoing column about a pretty, college-age Asian-American girl named "Zooey", who posted her daily musings in a web-based diary. "She" (who embodied, among others, a big, fat, gay black man named Andy whose PC speakers incessantly blared out the soundtrack to Evita) would answer e-mail messages from admiring fans who more often than not tried to secure her phone number.
I once inquired with those charged with the site maintenance about the feature, and was informed that it was a complete fabrication, complete with fake photos, ad nauseum. Needless to say, attempts to relate concepts of ethical behavior to a bunch of mid-twenties GenXers proved completely fruitless. I walked away with the impression that their collective IQs divided by any real number would be undefined.
Your "Kaycee Nicole" article successfully predicted the past. :)
I think I'm going to go home and watch Chayefsky's "Network" again....
-- Doug Powers
Oh stifle yourself with this business about the whippersnappers and journalistic ethics. Any paper that doesn't have at least one fabricated story per issue isn't worth reading. For years people have been waxing wise about the eternal verities of, well, verity and coming up with papers like the Chronicle and scripts like Network (Sorry, but for golden age Lumet, give me Dog Day Afternoon any day!). Meanwhile, the real journalists have always understood the importance of faking it.
Wheels Within Wheels
I am stunned by how good your Mariology piece is. I have to go home now.
p.s. But how come you didn't mention that accused spy Thomas Hanssen is said to be an Opus Dei member? Isn't there a Marian angle there?
Thanks for your support of an article that many readers mark as the beginning of Suck's decline and fall. If you check the expiration date on that one, you'll see that it was published before Hanssen's arrest, and at that time we didn't want to reveal too much of what we knew in order to protect our KGB sources. But rest assured that in a followup Hit & Run and daily, we have kept track of Opus Dei's mortification rituals and its connection with the Mother of all commie fighters. One thing is certain when the eternal struggle between right and left flares up, the BVM is never far behind.
I am a faithful reader of Suck.com. I try to waste time every day reading it. Last week, I read the *review* of Startup.com...Then, for whatever reason, I forgot that I read it. It happens to me sometimes. So then Friday night, I went to see the film...It was only being shown at this one tiny little theater in 'culture-meets-wealth-meets- homoeroticesque-meets-trendy-meets-yuck' area of town. The back seat of my ford probe has more leg room than this place. Not that I'm a theater snob (note, I didn't even spell it "theatre"), but I enjoy comfort whenever possible. Now I've begun to ramble.
This little letter is not so much about the theatre (doh!- I guess I am a snob), as it is about the movie. Because I forgot that I had read the Suck.com piece and b/c I hadn't read about the movie anywhere else, I thought the damn thing was fake. For me, being under that assumption made the movie tremendously funny. I'm a bit cynical (go figure a cynical reader of Suck.com) and have very little sympathy for the victims of dotcomania. But then I found out the movie was real. Now I'm sad. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I sort of got attached to those *actors* and thought they all had promising Hollywood careers...especially Kaleil's first girlfriend...I mean, c'mon, the scene where she professed her desire to have Kaleil buy her a dog that was magical! I almost went out and bought her a dog! But I didn't b/c I was still under the delusion of fiction.
I'm not so sure where this letter is going. I guess I'm just a bit pissed off at all those fakeumentaries...they have blurred my vision of reality. I mean now I'm not even sure if it was really just John Voight in the wheel chair all crippled up playing FDR in Pearl Harbor, or if there really was an old friend of FDR's hangin out in the White House with a camera back in 41! The worst part is I'm now so tainted that I can't possibly bring up movies when talking to a girl at a bar too much risk in speaking of a movie I think is fake that is real that is fake!!!!!!!
God help us all.
You should know better than to forget a Suck review, Casey. It would spare you many wasted trips to the movies. But I must thank you for bringing up Kaleil's girlfriend. Am I the only one who hopes they'll do a Pets Or Meat-style followup about Kaleil's girlfriend? When she was in the movie I wanted to stand up and point at the screen and say "Hey look, it's a human!"
Toughlove for the Sucksters
terrible, simplistic, no reason to give up my nihilism. there are people on the bus and there are drivers, I hope you'll be the latter again one day.
Like, ouch, TM! Stern words, but they needed to be said! For too long we've been playing in the sandbox. Time to put away childish things! Start acting like real journalists. Next week Suck will be in the driver's seat with nothing but real news: A chilling look inside Osama Bin Laden's terror network! What the Bush tax cut means for your family! Go behind the scenes of the Hollywood blockbuster Pearl Harbor!