Field of Dreams: A Modern Classic

This last Monday, TCM finally released their lineup for this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, which is set for the end of this month. Excitedly, I looked over the film descriptions and saw there was a screening of 1989’s Field of Dreams planned. Growing up, I watched this movie many times – mostly with my dad. And even though I had no interest in baseball, this movie meant a lot to me.

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So, you can imagine my surprise when I brought up the screening to my dad and he said, “Pass. Do you know how many times I’ve seen that movie?” I, of course, was outraged, “It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it. It’s a great movie. Plus, it’s being shown at Grauman’s Chinese Theater!” But, unfortunately, he could not be moved. No, he has to see the vitaphone classics (I’m sure it’s great) which is playing at the same time. I’m not bitter…okay maybe I’m a little bit bitter.

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So, even though I’ll be attending the screening without my dad (cause he’s a Jerk – Jk. He’s my dad so I love him anyway), I wanted to write this post and explain why this film is important – both to me personally and in the context of film history.

Field of Dreams follows Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), an Iowa corn farmer who hears a voice while out in the fields one day. The voice tells him ominously, “If you build it, he will come.” He thinks he figures out what it means and for some reason, his wife, Annie (Amy Madigan) goes along with it. Cue Ray building a baseball field on his farm in the hopes that the ghost of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson will come and get to play ball again after being thrown out of baseball for his part in the 1919 Black Box Scandal. Sound crazy? I know. Just go with it. Essentially, Ray goes on this journey to have closure with his father.

If you’ve never seen the film, here are just a few of the reasons I can watch it a million times over:

THE PREMISE.

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It’s nuts, I’ll give you that. But, I like it because it’s original. It’s different. It’s idealistic. It’s about characters. If you think it’s crazy, you’re not alone. 20th Century Fox passed on the project for years, thinking it just could never be commercially successful. In fact, most of the actors in the film didn’t quite “get it” at first. Burt Lancaster had to be convinced. Liotta apparently thought it was “silly.” Costner wasn’t initially wanted for the film because he had just done another baseball movie, Bull Durham. However, an exec gave him the script anyway. After reading it, Costner was convinced, seeing the film as another incarnation of the Holiday and Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.

THE SCORE.

Okay, so once or twice on this blog I’ve discussed my love for old school, amazing movie scores. And my love of Field of Dreams weighs heavily on its brilliant score by the late James Horner. If you’re not familiar, James Horner also composed the scores for Titanic (Hello! GREATEST SCORE), Bravehart, Glory, Aliens, Apollo 13…the list goes on. His score for Field of Dreams gives you all the feels in the best way and its clear in listening to it, how much his score inspired other film composers. Plus, it’s just plain pleasant to listen to…

THE CAST. 

The cast is what sells this film. It could be really silly and stupid, but Kevin Costner’s performance as Ray Kinsella makes us buy it. James Earl Jones is also fantastic as the J.D. Salinger-esque Terrence Mann – he provides much of the comic relief. However, as a kid, it was actually Amy Madigan’s performance as Annie Kinsella which stood out for me. She’s not the star by any means, but her scene in the school, arguing about why Terrence Mann’s book shouldn’t be banned, is one of my favorites (below). Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster are also great! Little tidbit: this film also marked the film debut for actress Gaby Hoffman who you may know from Amazon’s hit show, Transparent. The film also has some interesting extras – Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

IT’S ABOUT SOMETHING.

On the surface, it may be a movie about baseball player ghosts, but the underlying themes of the story reach far beyond that. It’s about nostalgia for our childhoods, understanding of our parents, and about the effect that we have on one another’s lives. As I mentioned before, my dad claims that it’s a father-son movie and while I understand him saying that, I disagree. I think it’s about more than gender. It’s about more than baseball. It’s a story about the choices we make and the small moments that make up our lives. To me, it’s an example of what cinema should do – make you feel and leave you with something to think about..

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In Roger Ebert’s review of the film, he said it was “the kind of movie Frank Capra might have directed and James Stewart might have starred in.” That makes more sense to me than anything since I love all things Capra (as you know if you’ve read any of my reviews). It is a true modern classic and I look forward to seeing it at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, even if it means I’ll be going stag!

Vintage trailer below:

 

 

 

 

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The #1 Feel Good Movie of Cinema’s First Century

If I’m ever having a bad day, there is one movie that no matter why I’m down, will always cheer me up. I don’t care if you’re not into musicals. Well, actually, that’s a lie. I do care. But, putting that aside, I believe that even if you’re not typically into musicals, you can’t NOT appreciate 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain.

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I can’t remember when I saw this movie for the first time. I’ve seen it so many times at this point, I truly know it by heart. But, that’s one of the things I love most about it: you can be any age and enjoy this movie. Recently, when I saw it at the Aero, I happened to sit next to a 3 year-old girl and her father. The little girl turned to me periodically, exclaiming “This is a funny movie.” She was completely engaged and her enthusiasm made me fall in love with the film all over again.

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If you’ve never seen Singin’ in the Rain, here’s a little synopsis to catch you up. The film takes place in the late 1920’s, right before the film industry was changed forever with the advent of talkies. Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen play Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, a pair of silent film stars who just completed their latest effort, The Dueling Cavalier. Lockwood meets Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds), an aspiring actress, and falls in love with her. When The Jazz Singer hits the scene, the executives decide to make Dueling Cavalier a talkie.

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That fails altogether when they realize at a test screening that the silent acting techniques don’t work in a sound picture. Kathy has a brilliant idea – make Dueling Cavalier into a musical, The Dancing Cavalier. There’s one problem though; Lina’s voice. Kathy volunteers to dub Lina’s talking and singing, and thus The Dancing Cavalier is a success. But what does this mean for Kathy going forward? DRAAAMA.

I’ve seen the movie many times in a movie theater and it really is just one of those all around entertaining, funny, feel good experiences. While apparently Gene Kelly didn’t regard it as highly as his other musical film, On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain is the film that has taken on a life of its own. It’s just one of those movies where everything came together, from the casting to the musical numbers to the satirical plot.

I was lucky enough to see Debbie Reynolds introduce the film at The TCM Film Festival a few years ago. Little tidbit: my dad routinely brags that when he saw the film in the 1980’s, Gene Kelly walked out after the film, holding an umbrella. It should also be noted that I yell Jerk! every time he mentions this. Not my fault I wasn’t born yet…

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If you’ve never seen the film, here are just a few reasons to put Singin’ in the Rain on your must watch list.

THE MUSIC. 

Can I make this ten reasons? The music in this film is so good, I guarantee it will be playing in your head for weeks. Below is one of my favorite numbers:

THE SATIRE.

This movie is smart, entertaining satire. The way they portray not only the film industry of the 1920s, but the transition from silent pictures to sound, is both hilarious and true. If this clip doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

DONALD O’CONNOR.

Donald O’Connor was a true talent and he’s exceedingly charming in this film. Just watch Make ‘Em Laugh. I dare you not to laugh. For seriously.

 

GENE KELLY AND DEBBIE REYNOLDS.

Yeah, he’s a bit older than her. Who cares? Their chemistry in this film is fun and alight with energy. They have all the tropes: the meet-cute, the banter…you’ll swoon. Especially when Gene sings this song:

JEAN HAGEN.

Jean Hagen is severely underrated in this film. She’s a bulk of the comic relief, putting on a hilarious fake voice. In reality, she actually had a lovely singing voice and little trivia: when Debbie Reynolds’ character is supposed to be dubbing Hagen’s voice, you’re actually hearing Hagen’s real voice.

IT’S VERITABLE HAPPINESS.

We desperately need movies that lift our spirits, inspire us, and make us laugh. Singin’ in the Rain surely fits the bill. This is one film that I’ve shown to many friends, many of whom swore to me up and down that they could never love a musical. But, somehow, they ended up liking it anyway. IMHO this movie requires frequent viewings and if you have the chance to see it in a movie theater, please GO! The film is veritable happiness and to prove my point, try not to smile at the Gifs below!

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Vintage trailer below: