A defense of the attack on “Field of Dreams.” Or an attack of the defense of “Field of Dreams.” Or something.
There was this movie on one of the Showtime channels — not sure if it was Showtime Beyond or Showtime Extreme or Showtime Moderate or Showtime Time-Waster — the other day called “Vibrations.” It is the story of an up-and-coming young rocker named T.J., who loses his hands when his car is attacked by drunken, violent hooligans.
You’re already intrigued, aren’t you?
Well, spoiler alert: T.J. flees his hometown and his comely girlfriend and becomes a drunken bum on the streets of Manhattan… until Christina Applegate and her friends in the electronic music scene come along and help restore his confidence by creating mechanical hands that can be programmed to play the keyboards. Under the stage name Cyberstorm, dressed like a futuristic robot, he becomes a huge hit on the club circuit, and his national tour takes him back to his hometown, where he gets revenge on those hooligans (coincidentally enough, assigned as security guards at the theater he’s playing) by locking them into a basement and subjecting them to obnoxious noises at full volume.
No, I didn’t make any of this up. This movie really exists.
“Vibrations” is a story about love and friendship, about overcoming difficulty and handicap, about redemption and revenge. So it has some admirable, overarching themes.
But these themes do nothing to prevent “Vibrations” from joining “The Room” as one of the most addictively awful movies I’ve ever seen. It is poorly acted and poorly conceived. And if we didn’t live in a world in which a guy like me could have access to 19 different Showtime channels, it inevitably would have been lost in the sands of time.
Now, I’ll allow, easily, that “Field of Dreams,” the film my friend and MLB.com cohort Jordan Bastian is so passionately defending, isn’t anywhere near as bad as “Vibrations.” It had a bigger budget, bigger stars and, of course, has a much, much bigger following. “Field of Dreams” is routinely listed among the best baseball-themed flicks of all-time.
One issue with “Field of Dreams,” however, is that its supporters are so fiercely devoted to its father-son sentimentality and tear-jerking homage to the glory of the game that they lose all sense of rationality and reason. To rail against the movie, as I did in a recent column, is, in their eyes, to demystify a legend, to desecrate a sacred social institution, when, in fact, all those of us in the anti-“Field of Dreams” camp are doing is pointing out that the plot is preposterous, the sentimentality is silly and Kevin Costner is annoying (the movie poster alone is annoying).
Another, otherwise reasonable MLB.com colleague, Zack Meisel, tweeted at me the other day that if I don’t like “Field of Dreams,” I don’t like baseball. What a ridiculous suggestion, Zack. I love baseball. And the best thing about baseball is that I don’t need sci-fi theatrics, ghost stories or unresolved daddy issues to love it.
There seems to be an assumption that those of us who don’t like “Field of Dreams” (and while I am clearly in the minority, I know I’m not alone in this opinion) don’t understand its message. As if the depths of this screwy script can only be deciphered by only the most emotionally advanced among us.
Please. This could not be further from the truth. Just as anybody with at least a third-grade education can understand the message in “Vibrations,” the message in “Field of Dreams” is not so difficult to decode.
It’s the presentation that leaves plenty to be desired.
Sure, it’s frustrating that Ray Liotta wasn’t dedicated enough to the Shoeless Joe Jackson role to learn how to take a few swings from the left-hand side of the plate. But every movie has its share of “goofs” that make their way to the IMDB page. No, my central issue with “Field of Dreams” is that it dumbs down the profound issues of generational conflict, spirituality and the afterlife and, in the process, abuses and cheapens the connective qualities and simplistic beauty of a great sport, all for its own box-office gain. It is a fairy tale that feels more like an acid trip — an overly layered plot that is too corny and contrived for its own good.
Shoeless Joe, you’ll remember, is the central figure in an argument between Ray Kinsella and his dad — an argument that leads Ray to flee home and never see his father again. Ray doesn’t respect his father because his father’s hero was Shoeless Joe, one of eight men banned from baseball as part of the Black Sox scandal.
Listen, Shoeless Joe took the money. $5,000, to be exact. But he played a great World Series. So his is a complicated case involving potential moral corruptness but probably not outright criminality. Count me among those who believe his “lifetime ban” from baseball should have ended when he died. But let’s not rope Shoeless Joe into our parental problems, all right? Let’s not use him as an axis in some conceptual conflict meant to illustrate the generational divide between 1960s-era fathers and sons. Hasn’t Joe been through enough? Let the man rest in peace, for God’s sake.
And Terence Mann? Make up your mind, Mann. Are you an anti-establishment black activist, or do you worship at the altar of baseball nostalgia and all the racial segregation it once embraced? (Bastian mentioned wanting to go to the “Field of Dreams” to see Cool Papa Bell stealing off Josh Gibson. I didn’t see either one in the movie. Let’s just leave it at that.)
One of the many agonized (and agonizing) themes of “Field of Dreams” is pursuing your dreams without regard for the cynics or the skeptics. As Bastian wrote: “It was a story of a man doing something he believed in, no matter what people thought of him along the way. He risked everything in order to do something he felt was right. He had a dream, and wanted to have a catch with his dad, and the baseball gods made it possible.”
Wait a minute… let me get a tissue.
I’ll counter with a public-service announcement: Just because you hear voices in your head doesn’t mean they’re correct, OK? Costner’s character winds up redeemed here because enough lunatics happen to share his “vision” to plop down $20 and see his field of ghosts. Let’s not take that as gospel that we should risk our family finances and livelihood to pursue every half-cocked hallucination we have (in fact, as I type this, my wife is upset that I’m paying more attention to my dream of artfully ripping “Field of Dreams” than I am to watching the NFL playoff games with her… she’s probably onto something). And we certainly shouldn’t put our families at risk if the end-goal is to summon some dead relative. Nine times out of 10, their spirits do not emerge in our cornfields.
Hey Ray, you have regrets about the way you disrespected your father? Leave me and my $7 out of it, all right?
I think one reason “Field of Dreams” sneaks its way onto so many “best baseball movies” list is because of the simple fact that there aren’t many great baseball movies. Many of them wind up too intellectually dishonest to appeal to real baseball fans and too boring to appeal to the masses. If Hollywood wants to co-opt baseball nostalgia for its own greedy gains, I’d rather it just leave the game alone altogether.
Bastian’s response to my three paragraphs of anti-“Field of Dreams” propaganda was well-written and heartfelt. Ultimately, though, his post was about his fond feelings for the field where the movie was filmed — a field he and his family visited each summer of his childhood. And as my initial column made clear, I love that field, because it represents the game’s more simple and satisfying strengths. The field is everything the movie is not — uncomplicated, well-constructed and a beauty to behold.
Those are some great childhood memories and photos you have there, Bastian. I have a childhood memory, too (but, sadly, no photo to accompany it). My memory revolves around the day in 1989 when my dad, my brother and I (just 8 years old) went to a matinee at the Lakeshore 7 in Euclid to see a newly released baseball movie called “Field of Dreams.” The Lakeshore 7 sits just down the street from Sims Park, where my dad would take me just about every day one summer when he was unemployed to play catch (not “have a catch”… because nobody who has any appreciation for proper linguistics would ever teach their kids to say “have a catch”).
The lights went down, the movie came on, and, a couple hours later, we walked out of the theater, and our opinion of what we saw was (and is) a shared familial feeling:
“Field of Dreams” stinks. It stunk then, it stinks now. And given the choice, if only for a dose of unintentional comedy, I’d rather watch “Vibrations.”