If you film it, they will hurl

So SuperWife and I were exchanging emails at work last week and she happened to make a sideways reference to FIELD OF DREAMS, a movie she knows I absolutely loathe, to a point where I am completely incapable of keeping quiet about my loathing of, whenever the subject comes up. Here's what I sent back to her:

It is an appallingly bad film which makes no sense whatsoever. If dead baseball players (who were all notorious cheaters while alive, anyway) are haunting your cornfield, here is what you do -- you fricking pack your shit and GIT. You certainly do not hot top over the cornfield so you can create a big baseball field because the voices in your head tell you that if you do this, MORE dead baseball players (who were notorious cheaters while alive) will show up and haunt you. I mean, seriously, WTF?

To this, I will only add the following anecdote -- long ago, when I was briefly a member of an Amateur Press Alliance, the subject of this dreadful celluloid abomination arose, and a very cheerful, pleasant, well intentioned fellow allowed as to how FIELD OF DREAMS was "very Capraesque".

Now, I have no doubt that he ventured this opinion because he had read it and/or heard it many other places prior to that occasion -- he was that kind of fellow; intelligent enough, certainly, but, well, if he'd ever had an original thought in his life, it would doubtless have immediately come into contact with the vast archival storage array of banality, bromides, platitudes, and cliches that made up most of his conscious mind, causing a sort of intellectual matter/antimatter detonation that would almost certainly have leveled most of America west of Chicago -- but, well, the fact that you read some deranged and doltlike horseshit somewhere does not encumber you to repeat it as if it were veritable Holy Scripture at every future opportunity, and in this case, the oft repeated aphorism that FIELD OF DREAMS is in some way "Capraesque" is, indeed, deranged and doltlike horseshit of the purest ray serene.

Unless, of course, we are intended to take the coinage "Capraesque" as meaning "Say, that's the most absolutely wretched and utterly worthless piece of garbage anyone has ever wasted several thousand feet of film stock on", in which case, well, sure, it's Capraesque indeed, but, oddly, anything and everything that has ever actually been directed by Frank Capra is anything and everything but.

To me, "Capraesque" would essentially mean a story centering around the basic theme that a single individual can indeed make a very significant difference to the world around them, but, ironically, that one person can only do so by inspiring some positive modification in many other people's social behavior. In other words, everybody matters to some extent or another, and anyone can matter a great deal. The gears and levers of history may need thousands or millions working together to set them in motion, but one person in the right place at the right time is all it takes to get all those other folks moving with a purpose.

This happens in pretty much every Frank Capra movie I can think of; Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper or some other charismatic actor portraying an eccentric but highly moral protagonist spends the first 3/4s of the film setting a wonderful example for everyone else all around them, and as a result of their own noble (and generally rather naive) selflessness, are nearly destroyed by the uncaring, monolithic forces of entrenched human selfishness and greed; in the end, however, our cinematic stalwart finds his salvation at the hands of all those good, decent common folks who have learned from his shining example and rallied round to save the day just before the final credits roll.

Now, if someone wants to point out to me how this particular formula can in any way apply to the tale of an imbecilic madman who, through no particular virtue of his own, ends up being haunted by the undead revenants of dishonored professional athletes and, harried to the point of mental breakdown by said gruesome spectres, decides to defy all reason as well as local law, throw away the livelihood that has been supporting his family, and build an amateur sports arena where said ghostly cheaters can escape their well deserved unending damnation with a few eternal innings of phantasmal stickball, well... I don't know. I'll take it under advisement, but you're going to have to come pretty hard at me, because I just can't see it right now.

Maybe it's that everyone says he's crazy, and then, in the end, after he does this crazy thing anyway despite everyone trying to bring him to his senses, he's proven to be right after all -- the undead cheaters really DO show up to play baseball in his cornfield, thus vindicating him in front of everyone who tried to gainsay his demented plan in the first place. But Capra's movies are not about anything as selfish as individual vindication. Yes, Capra's heroes all end up being right in the end, but none of them start out there, as can be most clearly seen in perhaps the most Capraesque of all Capra's movies, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the protagonist of which, George Bailey, spends most of his life in a state of frustration, self pity, and repressed anger, only realizing just how much good he's really done for everyone around him, and how well off he really is, after direct intervention from on high.

But this is typical; I've rarely heard the phrase "Capraesque" invoked over anything that was actually remotely reminiscent of Frank Capra's corny, small town-with-a-big heart kind of populism, and certainly, trying to attach the label to FIELD OF DREAMS is misguided from the start.

Unless, of course, you simply mean "this plot doesn't make any sense at all", in which case, well, I can't argue with you, since if George Bailey had never been born, Mary Hatch would have married that hee-hawing jackass Sam Wainwright and ended up as the richest woman in Bedford Falls, not some mousy little town librarian. (I grant you she'd have been pretty miserable, as Sam would have been cheating on her with every other skank in Bedford Falls, from Violet Bix right up through George's mom and her buxom Negro housemaid Annie, perhaps all three at once, with Nick from Martini's Bar picking up a little extra cash running the Rervere Miniature Movie Camera while he did so. But it would have been a very different kind of misery than that depicted in the film.)

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