Monday, April 16, 2012

"Contrarianism And Its Consequences" (A Ponderous Title)

Watching the Masters (golf tournament) recently reminded me of the movie Tin Cup (1996).
Tin Cup was co-written and directed by Ron Shelton, who had previously had considerable success writing and directing Bull Durham (1988) and White Men Can’t Jump (1992). You don’t hear much about Ron Shelton anymore. And Tin Cup may explain why.
The above-mentioned pictures are all sports movies, though they include strong romantic components, for an audience that insists on the former including the latter or they won’t go. I would say that means women, but that would be stereotyping. Though it does, generally, mean women.
There is also some eye-catching sex in the romantic segments, so the men can have something to look at while they’re waiting for the sports part of the movie to come back.
All three movies feature unconventional lead characters, Bull Durham’s protagonist (played by Kevin Kostner) is a talented minor league catcher who never made it to the “bigs” (Note: Ron Shelton himself was a minor league ballplayer who never ascended to the Majors.)
In White Men Can’t Jump, well…I don’t remember much about it, but the title already pokes a finger in your eye, especially if you’re a white man, and you can’t jump.
“Yuh duzzn’t has ta shine a light on it!”
Tin Cup lifts the provocation another level – arguably a level too high – building its climax on a counter-cultural reversal.
“What does that mean?”
I’ll explain in a minute.
Tin Cup is structured as a classic sports movie – the down-on-his-luck underdog getting it together, shocking the world with his spectacular performance, and earning an unprecedented and entirely unexpected shot at the title.
We have seen it all before. It’s the classic setup. But this time, it plays out surprisingly differently.
The problem is that Roy (the Kevin Kostner character), historically reckless and self-destructive – which others, including I’m sure Roy, might call gutsy and independent – wants less to win it all than to win it his way.
On the final hole, with the tournament on the line, Roy adamantly refuses to play it safe. Instead of “laying up” in front a pond and chipping easily onto the green behind it – as his opponents have done – Roy is determined to hit his shot over the pond and onto the green, making the green in one shot instead of two. (Does that make any English-speaking sense to you non-golfers? Just think, “He’s taking a dangerous and unnecessary risk”, and you’re fine.)
The result is that, despite the urgent begging of his caddy/best friend not to, Roy – to, first, the gallery’s excitement, followed by their confusion, followed by their apprehension, followed by their horror, followed by the feeling that they have just witnessed a man publicly poop in his pants – playing the shot “his way”, winds up hitting eleven balls into the pond, before finally landing one on the green.
The tournament is lost. And Roy looks like a pathetic loser crazy person.
It is only his psychologist girlfriend, who has apparently drunk the “march to a different drummer” Kool-Aid, who comforts him when he comes to the crashing realization that he has thrown away an incredible opportunity, assuring him,
“Five years from now, nobody will remember who won oir lost, but they’re gonna remember your 12.”
And that’s a psychologist talking.
Regular readers know I’m a fan of “competition movies” that somehow find a way to avoid the obligatory outcome – “no-name college debate team goes up against Harvard, and wins” – Yawn.
Rocky (1976) “won”, though he officially lost, because he attained his personal objective of “going the distance.” (Also, he actually won.) In The Bad News Bears (1976), the Bears, though they lose “The Big Game”, emerge triumphant, because of their, ultimately more important, self-understanding and personal growth.
In Tin Cup, a man who is prodigiously gifted in his sport – unlike Rocky and the Bad News Bears, who were not – sacrifices the chance of a lifetime, because he insists on reaching the green in one stroke instead of two. It’s not the same.
Is Roy a contrarian? Absolutely. But there’s another word for his taking his contrarianism to an extreme, and this from a contrarian himself:
Defying our “Winners Only!” culture (plus glorifying what appears to be an egregious display of mental illness), Tin Cup fell considerably short of Bull Durham and White Men Can’t Jump at the box office. It also led to a precipitous slide in writer-director Ron Shelton’s career. He still works sporadically as a ‘hired gun” screenwriter, but no longer as a movie’s creative guiding spirit.
I do not know Ron Shelton. But Tin Cup makes you wonder. Did he and Roy make the same type of mistake? I can imagine the discussions with the studio.
"I like the script, but can you make him win?"
"If he wins, there's no movie."
"If he loses, there's no audience."
I am reminded of story about a television writer who, during a contentious meeting with the network, proclaims,
“I see we are in serious disagreement, and I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I can go either way.”
Two differing approaches. I myself favor the first one. But just, you know…
Don't be a schmuck.
Two days ago, my family and I left for a week's stay in Hawaii.  I have left stuff for you to read while I'm gone, in case I am unable or to blissed out to post from vacation.  

My new and improved Blogger "Dashboard" smacks in my face the precise number of  how many people read this blog, information I have heretofore deliberately avoided finding out, believing that, if the number was substantial, I'd feel intimidated, and if it were tiny, I'd be bummed out.  

The numbers are okay.  I frankly don't know why and am appreciative that anybody bothers to read my blog.  Still, I would ask you, if you like what I do, tell your friends.  If you don't like what I do, tell you enemies.  That way, you can get back at them, and waste their time.  In either case, my numbers will increase.

The truth is, you do enough already by just showing up.  

I'm just saying.  

Since they now make me look at the numbers, whether I want to or not.


Julian said...

Some of us read the blog through the RSS feed, rather than visiting each day, which almost certainly is not being tracked by the Blogger statistics.

So you may not have noticed that I read it.

(Except that I had to come to the page to comment, so I *was* counted, so you can ignore this now.)

Nuke Laloosh said...

Just an ever-so-slight adjustment on Bull Durham. Crash Davis did make it to the show 'for 7 glorious days,' (I think), which prompted those high-revelations to his teammates aboard the bus that the ball parks are cathedrals, somebody always carries your bags and they use white balls for batting practice.

I have wondered what happened to Shelton. Though I didn't care for White Men, either, I was, like many others, waiting for another Bull Durham. Good baseball movies are few, but I thought/hoped that he would have one more. Still, Bull is always at or near the top when the annual lists of best sports movies come out.

Enjoy your trip - Aloha!

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; Mr. Shelton worked after "Tin Cup" both writing and directing. His last credits are from 2003, the year he directed "Hollywood Homocide" from his own script. This may have been the last nail but I'd agree that "Tin Cup" did him no good.


GRayR said...

OK Earl,
I'll look at your site two times a day. One is not enough, and I always wanted to hack the Nelsons.

Enjoy Hawaii, lived there for almost 20 years and loved it all. Now the Central Coast is second best to live.

Try some poke, it is a local dish made with raw fish and seaweed. It comes in many types and we used to eat a pint and have a beer for lunch.

Also damn cute kid there.


Frank said...

For sports movies it's hard to beat Slap Shot eh. Hope you don't run in to Roseanne and her nuts over there.

Anonymous said...

Man, I love 'Tin Cup', and I love that scene.

Would've been worse had he suddenly overcome his long-standing ability to get out of his own way and tied the US Open by doing something so against his nature. He simply can't lay up that shot, even if he knows it means tying the US Open and playing in a playoff for the win.

Not to mention that going the safe route in sports is often looked down upon. Denny Green plays it safe in the NFC Championship by having Cunningham take a knee and take the game into overtime, and it's listed as one of the Ten Worst Coaching Decisions of all time by ESPN.

McAvoy went for the straight-up win over the tie, almost achieved it and then got in his own way when he didn't (though one could argue that, once you've lost, going down in flames really is more memorable than just taking the drop and getting second or third).

On a different note, I worked in media relations for one of those really low-end independent minor league baseball teams, and one of our players (who was a star in our league) had been in the Cardinals organization and gotten a late-season call-up to the Big Leagues. He ended up racking up 13 plate appearances and got himself ONE hit. The Cards released him at the end of that season.

Around the clubhouse in that crappy little minor league team, he was practically a God. He'd played in the Bigs, and even though it didn't amount to much, he'd made it.