Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Longest Yard with Cloris Leachman

Note: Some of the passages in the following discussion were integrated into my thesis.  You take any of it without my consent and I will come to you in the dark of some terrible night and bring with me a pointy reckoning that will shudder you.  Thanks & Enjoy!

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I watched and analyzed the 1974 The Longest Yard (Robert Aldrich) for my thesis, and while I’ve owned the 2005 version of the film for three years now, I only got around to watching it a couple nights ago.  The motivation came from the knowledge that William Fichtner plays Captain Knauer.

The two films may have similar skeletons (second chances for a former professional player who gets incarcerated for auto-theft and reckless driving;  he is not released from prison, but he is given the opportunity to exercise his football player role within the confines of his new home), but they are not so similar in spirit.

The Burt Reynolds Longest Yard explored much more effectively and convincingly not only the redemption narrative but also the role of football in that narrative.  Specifically, the game functions as a way for its protagonist to find his place within the system and not to buck it.  Of course, he does buck it on an ideological level because he refuses to play according to anyone’s prerogative but his own. Reynolds is Paul Crewe, a one-time professional football player who ends up in prison for “stealing a car, drunken driving, [being] drunk in public, and resisting arrest.”  Once he arrives at the Citrus State Prison, Crewe’s moustache is shaved off and his hair is cut, an instance where visual change compels personal change.  The prestige of who he was is gone—not to suggest that his experience in the professional league will not benefit him during his stay in prison, but he has to learn a whole new set of rules to survive in the place.

On the first day of work detail out in the swamps, Crewe learns from fellow inmate Caretaker (James Hampton) why the other inmates are not warming up to him.   In what the film implies to be the last professional game Crewe played as quarterback (seven or eight years before his arrest), he deliberately played poorly so his team would lose and he would collect a large sum of money for it.  Caretaker remarks that “shaving points off the game is un-American,” which is his real crime, not the on-record reason why he is in prison.   Caretaker adds that the other prisoners come from poverty and resent Crewe for coming from wealth, having it all and throwing it away.  It is more probable that they would turn to a life of crime, while Crewe had the odds in his favor yet still ended up in prison. *

The confrontational sentiments that he experiences quickly dissipate as Crewe tries his best to fit in—at least to the degree that his will allows.   Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, the antagonists and the conflict are established.  Warden Hazen (Eddie Albert) has a semi-professional team that is comprised of the guards.  Captain Knauer (Ed Lauter) has promised for the past five years that they would win a national title and it has not happened yet.  The warden initially asks Crewe to coach his own team, but after having a follow-up conversation with him, Hazen wants the creation of a prisoners’ team so the guards can gain some pre-season practice.

Whether or not to put a prisoner team together and then whether or not to play to win become complicated questions for Crewe since he just wants to do his time and leave; he does not want to get hurt playing against the guards if it would just be a game.  But it is clearly not just a game.  Once Crewe slowly begins to care about more than himself, he and Caretaker pursue the task at hand.  The inmates agree to play football because they would be allowed to inflict bodily injury upon the guards within the rules of the game.  If they themselves were injured, spending six weeks in a hospital would be a vacation from living in the prison environment.  Moreover, playing football provides them a few hours to exist as “free” men.   Major spoiler ahead.  Highlight at your own discretion: Crewe leads his Mean Machine team to win, despite the warden’s threat of extending the duration of his sentence.   Naturally, Hazen is not happy, but Captain Knauer finally realizes that the enemy is not Crewe but the warden.    It really is for the better.  Crewe and his inmate teammates earn respect from the guards by playing football.

There is only one game sequence in The Longest Yard, and it is incredibly long.  The first two quarters of the game include three to four plays, followed by halftime, followed by the third and fourth quarters.  Only the last play of the fourth quarter is in slow-motion.   Why might there be so much game-play? According to IMDB, The Longest Yard was released in American theatres nationwide on August 30, 1974, which would have been around the time football season officially started in that year.**   The increase in popularity of Monday Night Football, which had been on television four years at that point, can account for the marketability of Aldrich’s film.  In a display of intertextuality and authenticity, the film features former professional players (according to one of the special features segments on the DVD); there are even corporate sponsors for the game between the guards and the Mean Machine: Pabst beer, Gatorade, Adidas, Rawlings, Eastern Airlines, and Goodyear.

Adam Sandler’s Paul Crewe undergoes no such transformation.  In fact, by the time the game sequence arrives, I’m just glad I’m not annoyed to tears with Sandler’s portrayal of Crewe.  Burt Reynolds was always a much more sympathetic PC, and I was happy to see his character mature.

The first image in Aldrich’s The Longest Yard is a coffee table, on top of which rests an ashtray (filled with a dozen or so cigarette butts), a bottle of whiskey/bourbon/scotch, an empty glass, and a metal box.   The table is in a living room.  There is a piano on the left of the screen and there are pictures of a woman on it.  The audio track consists of a sportscaster giving the play-by-play of a football game.  An off-screen woman’s voice complains about “watching this crap” and “only a moron would watch two football games one after another.”

The opening scene of Peter Segal’s Longest Yard, on the other hand, is a swanky party that Crewe’s girlfriend (played by a Courteney Cox of asymetrical bosom specs–> her left breast is lower and longer than her right breast) is throwing.  Crewe is hanging out upstairs and refuses to wear the Elton John-inspired outfit that his girlfriend has picked for him.   He gets her into the closet, locks it, and then takes her Bentley for a joy ride.

Rounding out the main casting choices, Chris Rock takes the role of Caretaker and James Cromwell is Warden Hazen.   Burt Reynolds is also in it (as more than a cameo, he plays a convict-coach).  2005’s The Longest Yard features a dozen practice sequences (snaps, exercises, much falling down of characters) and one game.  As a football film, the Sandler Longest Yard troubles me.  Whereas the depiction of football in the Reynolds Longest Yard unmistakably examines the protagonist’s struggles in negotiating the convict/athlete identities and offers violent spectacle, the sport in Sandler’s hands is more contextual.  In fact, the majority of the jokes and physical comedy are integrated into football (related) scenes.  While I would categorize the 1974 picture as a football-prison film, I’d be more inclined to drop the 2005 one as a comedy with football in it.  Hmmm, I haven’t watched The Waterboy yet.  I wonder how it compares, especially given the Sandler factor.

Product Placement and Branding: Silver Bentley, Lord of the Rings franchise (specifically, “Mr. Frodo” as verbal allusion); McDonalds cheeseburgers, Gatorade, People Magazine (of Melrose Mania cover), Icy Hot, Vaseline, Reebok, Short Circuit, Sean John Collection (some dude was wearing a white shirt before the game scene), ESPN, Chris Berman.

For a full plot synopsis of the Sandler Yard, click here.

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And yes, Cloris Leachman is in the 2005 The Longest Yard.

Click here to watch William Fichtner in the film.

*Deborah V. Tudor makes the observation in her book Hollywood’s Vision of Team Sports: Heroes, Race, and Gender that “a flawed hero, one who suffers from temporary disgrace or loss of skill, is a common device within [sports] films,” because the “function of such narratives…becomes one of self-restoration” (46).

**North Dallas Forty came out August 3, 1974.  Rocky did not come out until 1976.

Do you love Lacrosse?

NCAA 2009 Lacrosse Championship between Cornell and Syracuse.  You gotta see it.  Click here and here to read more about it.

Wow.  I mean, effin cool.

I stumbled across this nifty blog a week or so ago.  The author is currently in Poland, unofficially, incidentally serving as cultural ambassador by spreading the awareness of and love for the quintessential American sport.  He’s got a YT channel as well.

Toad the Wet Sprocket: Mission Accomplished

Happy Memorial Day.

I was thirteen years-old when Toad the Wet Sprocket’s fourth album, Dulcinea, was released in 1994.   It was among the first five CDs I had ever owned (the first being After 7 and the rest being the soundtrack of Reality Bites, Carmen Sandiego, and The Cranberries’ second album No Need to Argue).

I do not recall how it is that I came to know the name of “Toad the Wet Sprocket;” although, if I dug through my old journals I could probably find it.  What’s important, however, is that they are my all-time favorite band.  From their first album, Bread and Circus, to their live album, Welcome Home: Live at the Arlington Theatre, there is not a single Toad song that I dislike.

Other English-language artists that I would list without skipping a heartbeat as part of My Favorite Singers (Jeff Buckley, the Marvelous Three, Abra Moore, Dishwalla, CAKE, Ben Folds Five, HIM) do not stand with Toad the Wet Sprocket in this respect.  There are Jeff Buckley songs that I skip; there are Marvelous Three/Butch Walker songs that I skip.  When Toad’s sixth album, Coil, came out in 1997, they held a concert at GSU but because the interweb was not then what it is now, I didn’t have all the info about the concert details and thus wasn’t able to attend.  They disbanded a year later and I thought I would never see them perform live.

Well, jump ahead just over a decade into the future on a Sunday night at the Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points, and my resignation of never seeing them in concert was torn asunder.   Tony Furtado (no relation to that other one) opened with just a guitar and a banjo.

It was truly an awesome night.  On the one hand, it felt unreal (this can’t be happening); on the other hand, it made so much sense and felt so right (this is happening, it absolutely is happening).  Seeing Toad the Wet Sprocket live was on my list of Things To Do Before You Expire.  Though it’s a short list, it’s the only item I can cross out, it’s the only accomplished mission as of Memorial Day 2009.  I’ve done and seen some ludicrously cool things in the last decade (including performing in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, singing and standing next to Ted Turner on a stage at the Woodruff Arts Center, meeting real Shaolin monks, and getting Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to draw me a farm animal), but those experiences were either the result of happenstance or originated outside my own desires.

I suppose I need to attribute part of my Toad evening to happenstance.  That I even knew they were coming to town was the direct result of someone’s Facebook wall post.

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And now,

Hope to it

To seize without alighting
the Other man’s livelihood
is the blueprint of the innocents

It’s just a pity,
a real low
down murky shame
that misinformed Lions fall
to cackling hyenas,
and gazelles are ensnared
not for food
but b/c of location

Location, location
Can they find me in this rubble
Do they hear my pleading

Pride of Lions
don’t stop believing
don’t stop the music
the sound of heavy marching
is chocolate to my senses
water to my desert

Take it
Take it all
I never wanted to live here anyway
.

–yiqi Memorial Day 2009 1:17 pm

Pic cred: google image search

Memorial Day Weekend 2009

But first, read my review of Lymelife (Derick Martini, 200eight) here.

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May 29th, Memorial Day three years ago, I gazed into Brandon Boyd’s eyes and nearly walked into Wes Moss, a fellow Emory alum and a contestant on second season of The Apprentice.  It was such a surreal and thrilling day–so very popcultural.  Due to a recent  (incidental), revitalized interest in military history, I’ve decided that Memorial Day weekend 2009 will be devoted to reading more and contemplating about the armed forces–not necessarily limited to America’s–and in a more substantial manner (compared to something like this).

Learning history–any kind of history–is about as exciting as counting backwards from 100 for some people.  For other people, though, history is fascinating.  If we don’t know where we are until we know where we’ve been, if we can’t know what we will do if we don’t know what we’ve done, internalizing every kind of history should be a given.

I’ve always enjoyed reading (about) history.  I’m more language arts-minded, but the scientist and pattern-seeker stands strong and curious.  My present interest in military history was sparked by watching Black Hawk Down a few days ago.  A day or so later, I bought the 3-disc special edition as well as the HBO series Generation Kill, which I’ve been enjoying immensely.

I’ve also purchased BHD’s source material, the book by Mark Bowden, SAS Heroes by Peter Scholey, and Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides.

Ghost Soldiers was actually adapted into a film called The Great Raid (John Dahl, 2005), which was the subject of a term paper I wrote for my Masculinity & Violence seminar in grad school.  Here is an excerpt:

Based on William B. Breuer’s book The Great Raid of Cabanatuan and Hampton Sides’s book Ghost Soldiers, The Great Raid takes place in the Philippines and charts five days from January 27 to 31 of 1945 in the lives of prisoners-of-war at Cabanatuan, the Rangers that rescue them, and the members of the Underground that risked their lives to make sure the POWs got medicine.  Rather than tell the story of the rescue mission exclusively from the perspective of the Rangers, the film divides the goal-oriented narrative among three groups of characters, which results in competing narratives.

Firstly, the film follows the conception through to the execution of the rescue led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci (Benjamin Bratt), Captain Robert Prince (James Franco), and Captain Juan Pajota (Cesar Montano).  Secondly, the film spends a considerable amount of time inside Cabanatuan with POWs Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes), Captain Redding (Marton Csokas), Duke (Nicholas Bell) and Lieutenant Paul Colvin (Logan Marshall-Green).  Thirdly, the film includes sequences detailing the kinds of risks the POWs and the members of the Underground—specifically Margaret Utinsky (Connie Nielsen) and Mina (Natalie Mendoza)—had to take in order for the former to help the latter…

As a combat film,* The Great Raid is doing too much.  Three narratives compete for screen time and the viewer’s attention.  In terms of scenes, the film alternates between the storylines, but because there is so much drama that occurs in the Prisoner and Underground scenes (Major Gibson’s malaria worsens, Captain Redding’s unsuccessful escape attempt leads to the deaths of nine other POWs; Margaret becomes the only survivor of this Underground group), one nearly forgets that there is going to be a rescue.

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The reason that I felt compelled to articulate my thoughts on my rekindled interest in this subject is due to the concept of respect.  Mrs. Aretha Franklin sang on those seven letters: R. E. S. P. E. C. T.  Among my group of close friends, the words, “respect,” “integrity,” and “honesty” are dearly held beliefs.  Integrity and honesty, yes, I hold them close as well.  In terms of “respect,” though, I never thought about it.  When most people would say, “I respect him very much,” I would say, “I’m in awe of him” or “I admire him very much.”

The Free Dictionary defines the word primarily as “to feel or show deferential regard for; esteem” and “Willingness to show consideration or appreciation.”

I can certainly apply those uses to external and objective conversations, but it wasn’t until I watched the documentaries and featurettes of both Black Hawk Down DVDs that I finally understood or figured out what “R. E. S. P. E. C. T. means to me.”

A year ago in January, I wrote an entry after I finished reading John Feinstein’s book about the Army-Navy football rivalry.  Specifically, I had written, “I’ve never regarded the military with anything but deference, framed around a cognitive (historical) understanding of what they do and what they represent.  Vietnam and the 21st Century haven’t been so kind to them in terms of PR, but I don’t hold them responsible for the way Middle Eastern relations have or haven’t gone.  After reviewing a documentary called Occupation: Dreamland three years ago and recently watching a documentary called Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company, I felt more respect and gratitude, which were magnified after finishing Feinstein’s book.

My use of the word “respect” there is denotatively, linguistically correct.  But, it only truly, truly registered yesterday when I was walking to my desk at work that the only people with/to/for whom I can genuinely say I respect…would be the military and firemen.

I Respect the military and firemen.  It occurred to me this afternoon when I was driving home, after I had related this epiphany to a coworker, that the reason I would or could describe my thoughts/feelings about these groups of individuals with the R word is because…   I cannot begin to imagine what it feels like to have seen, heard, smelled, and felt the things that they have.   Thus, to be in awe of what they do and even to admire them for saving lives and defending the values of our nation and communities simply isn’t enough.

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*And what do I mean by “combat film”?

In her book The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre, Jeanine Basinger meticulously sets up the parameters for what she does and does not consider to be a combat film.   Military Biographies is one of four kinds of films that feature war in a visual or tangentially narrative way but are not combat films.  Basinger excludes them because while “many true combat films are based on the…experiences of real-life war heroes…, the biographical war film about events from War World II tends not to be about combat, but about a personal sacrifice…or a human crisis of some sort..;” and when there is combat, it is “used as a remembered event…or is presented as the basis of the problem, one section of a larger, noncombatant story” (12).

Off Topic: BHD and everything after

I saw Black Hawk Down (based on Mark Bowden’s book of the same name) when it came out in theatres in 2001.   I bought the DVD today and watched Ridley Scott’s film again, for the second time in eight years.

My attention lingered around two thoughts:

1.  Stone Temple Pilots’Creep” plays when Sizemore (Matthew Marsden) finds out he cannot go on the mission and then Grimes (Ewan McGregor) learns he must.

2.  There are so many familiar faces in this film.  I warped into dork mode and decided to create a matching game out of most of them.

Firstly, the following actors’ faces and names rang no bells:

Tom Guiry
Danny Hoch
Glenn Morshower
Steven Ford
Ian Virgo
Tom/Thomas Hardy
Chris Beetem
Tac Fitzgerald
Kent Linville
Michael Roof
Jason Hildebrandt

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Secondly, these actors’ faces looked familiar:

Gabriel Casseus
Charlie Hofheimer
Johnny Strong
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Il est tres beau!)
Matthew Marsden
George Harris
Ty Burrell
Boyd Kestner (He was in GI Jane!).

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And now, the game begins.  The following images are of actors whose names and faces I knew (FN) OR whose faces I knew but whose names I didn’t know or had forgotten (N).   Each letter represents an actor/face.

Part One.  Match the following faces to the correct list, FN or N.

A. B. C.

D. E. F.

G. H. I.

J. K. L.

M. N. O.

P. Q. R.

S. T. U.

Part Two.  Match the above faces to the correct names.

1. Jason Isaacs
2. Josh Hartnett
3. Orlando Bloom
4. Ewan McGregor
5. Gregory Sporleder
6. Tom Sizemore
7. Eric Bana
8. William Fichtner
9. Ewen Bremner

10. Richard Tyson
11. Ron Eldard
12. Kim Coates
13. Carmine Giovinazzo
14. Hugh Dancy
15. Brian Van Holt
16. Sam Shepard
17. Ioan Gruffudd
18. Enrique Murciano
19. Jeremy Piven
20. Brendan Sexton III (sometimes credited as Brendan Sexton Jr.)
21. Zeljko Ivanek

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Pix creds: google image search.

Read more about Mogadishu, the film, and the book here, here, here, and here.