Today’s post is brought to you by baseball.
After watching Major League (David S. Ward, 1989), Headin’ Home (Lawrence C. Windom, 1920), and several clips from the DVD accompaniment to Les Krantz’s book Reel Baseball: Baseball’s Golden Era, The Way America Witnessed It–In the Movie Newsreels, I’ve observed that the aesthetics of filmed baseball (for news or for a movie) is simultaneously consistent and predictable as well as varied and surprising.
The newsreels included baseball clips from 1933 to 1965 and were in black and white (I didn’t watch the footage from the ’60s). The ones I watched were made by Movietone News or Universal Newsreel. Newspapers and radio covered sporting events; and before the emergence and omnipresence of televised athletic competition, the American public was able to see highlights of games in newsreels that played immediately before or after theatrical films.
Raymond Fielding remarks in his book The American Newsreel: 1911-1967 that “after the newsreel was introduced in 1911 and it became necessary to manufacture news footage on schedule, sports events provided ideal subject matter, whether newsworthy or not. Highly visual and filled with action and movement, they were ideally suited to the motion picture medium. Occurring frequently and abundantly on national, regional, and local levels, they lent themselves to economical, pre-planned, convenient filming. Competitive in nature and dramatic in staging, they offered maximum excitement and human interest to the average film patron while at the same time satisfying the needs of an immense established audience of sports fans throughout the country” (57/58).
Joe Garagiola (played for the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, and New York Giants from the mid-40s through the 50s) narrates the newsreels DVD. I watched nine clips, including footage from the 1934 World Series between the Cardinals and Detroit Tigers, game four of the 1939 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds, and the 1955 All-Star Game in Milwaukee.
What struck me–no pun intended–about these clips were the shot scale, angles, and movement of the camera. Just like the extreme high-angle long shot of a football field often found in newsreels, televised games, and film,
these baseball newsreels and the baseball films I watched frequently presented the field and game-play from the same vantage point: from up high similar to these points-of-view.
The baseball parks in these newsreels did not differ that drastically from what you see above. The chalk lines between bases and the shape of the bases weren’t identical (there was an extra line to first base), but to my eye, the difference between a 1940 ball park and a 2007 ball park is not nearly as noticeable as that of a 1940 football field and a 2007 football field.
As for the actual filming of the players, the angle and shot scale most common resembled this one
a high-angle long shot, but not nearly as extreme as the previous photographs. Whether the camera was stationed along first base or third base, the players appeared this size on the screen many times. The end result? You’d see Lon Keller of the Yankees at bat in the 1939 World Series, and after he hits the ball, the camera (behind first base) would track along with him in such a close shot that the other players remain off-screen for the duration of his homerun.
I noticed that much of the newsreels consisted of the offense. The pitcher would get his time on screen, but the camera was more likely to remain on the batter or even cut to the crowd than it was to film the players in the outfield. There also didn’t appear to be any pattern to when the camera would film the batter facing towards or away from the camera.
Oddly, in the film Headin’ Home (starring Babe Ruth), not only was there footage of the outfield, but there was also a couple shot-reverse-shot exchanges between the pitcher and the batter. A shot-reverse-shot is simply film studies jargon for cutting between two images (usually of living creatures) to suggest that the objects in those images are looking at each other. For example, shot A is of a pitcher looking into the camera. Shot B is of a batter looking into the camera. The camera cuts between the two images and the viewer reads this shot-reverse-shot as the pitcher and batter looking at each other.
There were also a few awkward edits where the pitcher would be facing to the side of the camera but the next shot would be a profile POV of the batter. Such a pairing of imagery isn’t uncommon in televised baseball, but somehow it seemed more conspicuously “wrong” in the film.
Part 2 of this post will be up tomorrow.
pix creds: amazon.com, google image search