Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Most American Movie - Bang the Drum Slowly

The Best Years of Our Lives defines the essence of what American courage is versus the disastrous proposals and delusions that brought the entire human race into the Second World War. The film also portrays the essence of an American goodness which, now more than ever, is like no other in the world. Michael Moriarty - Ottawa Life Magazine 7/15/2012

       "Genius is a web into which poor, normally mortal humans inevitably fly!" - Michael Moriarty - Ottawa Life Magazine        

Bruce Pearson ( Robert DeNiro): Everybody'd be nice to you if they knew you were dying. Henry Wiggen ( Michael Moriarty: Everybody knows everybody is dying; that's why people are as good as they are. from Bang the Drum Slowly - 1973

I beg to differ with a man of true genius, only this once; Michael Moriarty wrote that The Best Years of Our Lives, which presents the the physical, mental and spiritual anguish of three WWII veterans upon homecoming,  might just be the greatest American film ever produced.   Moriarty, whose grandfather was reputed to be the one of the most fiercely competitive men to ever play professional baseball, the most American of sports, George Moriarty, feared by the legendary Ty Cobb and respected by the profession as an umpire once he retired from play, is an athletic actor who brought the soul of baseball - a tragi-comic drama itself- to life in the film Bang the Drum Slowly (1972)*.   I'd offer that this film is the genuine American movie.

It is American because it is youthful, hopeful, energetic, profane, respectful, witty and courageous.  Play is serious business.  Games ( in Greek agonistes ) are man's recognition of God.   In pure sport, man enacts his course of life.  The goal is to come as close to perfection as possible, without allowing ones self to become ensnared in pride (hubris)  -that is what tragedy is all about.   The Games that we play are very serious.   The struggle required in living well is our mortal art.  Baseball is often agreed upon to be an example of perfect sport - requiring patience, energy, charity, deft physicality and self-deprecating humor.

The manager of the fictional baseball team of Mark Harris's novel and screenplay, Dutch, offers this summary of his time on earth -" When I die, in the newspapers they'll write that the sons of bitches of the world have lost their leader."  

Dutch Schnell's aphorism stands as tall  his memorable "Skip the facts, just gimme the details."  The devil dwells in the details:

This is the story of a star-pitcher Henry " Author" Wiggen ( Moriarty) attempting to give dignity to the last months  of dying catcher Bruce Pearson ( DeNiro) and in so doing draws every spark of humanity from a clubhouse full of idiosyncracies, egos, appetites and grudges. Death has no sting.

Here is what Moriarty and Wiggen hath wrought.

The agony ( the struggle) of dying young is the American gift to God.  The Game is everything, because the game reflects God's love of man.

Bang the Drum Slowly is the American film.

* Chicago Note -America's Montaigne, Joseph Epstein**, sent this Chicagoland fact along:

Maury and Lois Rosenfield, the couple who produced Bang the Drum Slowly, both of them now dead, were dear friends of mine. They lived in Glencoe. Maury was a successful lawyer, who became interested in the movies through a friendship with Ben Hecht. The Rosenfields acquired the services of DeNiro for this movie for $10,000. Of Michael Moriarity, Maury used to say that no actor had ever done less to advance his own career. . . . Keep tapping away.
Best, Joe

Joe noted that Mr. Rosenfield had great respect for Moriarty's selflessness.


Joseph Epstein (born January 9, 1937 in Chicago) is an essayist, short story writer, and editor, best known as a former editor of the Phi Beta Kappa Society's The American Scholar magazine and for his recent essay collection, Snobbery: The American Version. He was also a lecturer atNorthwestern University from 1974 to 2002. He is a Contributing Editor at The Weekly Standardand a long-time contributor of essays and short stories to The New Criterion and Commentary. The late William F. Buckley, Jr., in his review of Snobbery, called Epstein the wittiest writer alive.
Epstein's body of work reveals his fascination with common everyday situations, amusing trends and small pleasures that he brings to his reader's attention. He also specializes in essays that shed light on the musings and ideas of famous and forgotten authors and writes short stories that prominently feature the city of Chicago and the characters that have populated his 70 years as an observer of the city.


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