- Glenn Sonnenberg
Musings from the Bunker 9/9/20
I’ve been thinking about recent movies and TV we’ve seen…
Last weekend Andrea and I watched the movie 42. It is the story of the only player whose number has been retired by all the teams in major league baseball, Jackie Robinson. The movie tells the story of two heroes—Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. Branch Rickey was General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the man who orchestrated Robinson’s hiring and acceptance by organized baseball and the public.
It wasn’t until the movie began that I recognized the actor playing Robinson was Chadwick Boseman, who also starred in Black Panther. You may recall that Mr. Boseman died last week of colon cancer at age 43.
Watching this movie at this time was particularly moving, not only for its theme but also on account of Mr. Boseman’s tragic death. The America of 1947 was brutally and outwardly racist than now. That said, it seemed more hopeful, polite and less cynical than our world today. While the bathrooms labeled “Colored” and the racist taunts were vile, the movie did not carry with it a message of unrelenting hopelessness. Through the persistence of Rickey and the patience and dignity of Robinson, ballplayers and fans were swayed. Times were changing and people changed. There was a sense that the world was going to get better.
There were accurate portrayals of acts of dignity—particularly those of Ralph Branca (the great Hall of Fame pitcher who delivered the pitch to Bobby Thompson that became the “shot heard around the world”) and Pee Wee Reese. In a moving moment before play at Cincinnati, in the midst of racist taunts from the crowd, Pee Wee (raised in Kentucky, just across the river and one of the segregated “Border States”) famously walked across the diamond to chat with Robinson, putting his arm around his teammate, for the entire stadium to see. For this man, born in the South and who never played ball with a Black man before, to perform such an act of brotherhood in front of an angry mob of backcountry numbskulls, help to alter the playing field and the country’s conversation about integration.
In our current moment, we have witnessed brutal police killings and have been forced to reexamine the racism that persists to this day. It would be a mistake, however, to equate all police officers with murder, all Whites with racism, and American history as fundamentally flawed. We are all flawed and struggle forward and these people overcame the odds to achieve at least some semblance of advancement and harmony. I hope we will see more Rickeys, Robinsons and Reeses in the coming months and years.
We recently completed powering through three seasons of Yellowstone, starring Kevin Costner. As you know, I run hot and cold on Costner, who seems to play an emotional spectrum as broad as my vocal range. That said, he does a solid job here, as the patriarch of the seventh generation of a Montana ranching family. The family and its ranch abuts, and conflicts with, an adjacent Indian reservation (the chief of which is played by a USC alum) and they both stand in the way of larger financial interests trying to build large developments in the valley.
Of course much of the plot is over-the-top of family melodrama, a la Succession on HBO (another great series) and Dallas. But the series addresses real issues and the competing interests in the American west in interesting ways. The cinematography of the vast vistas is extraordinary. Plus the depictions of how life is on modern ranches, with ranch hands of various backgrounds and levels of expertise, is great. And the depiction of the life of rodeo riders and the rodeo is fascinating. Andrea and I have been to rodeos around Colorado, Wyoming and Montana with the kids and have enjoyed this odd, strange bit of Americana in those places…
For the history of rodeo: https://www.prorodeo.com/prorodeo/rodeo/history-of-the-prca. While most of the rodeo competition events derive from the skills of ranchers (e.g., roping) and some involve abilities associated with horsemanship (e.g., barrel races), others seemingly are more ridiculous and dangerous, such as bull riding, described in Wikipedia as follows:
Bull Riding - an event where the cowboys ride full-grown bulls instead of horses. Although skills and equipment similar to those needed for bareback bronc riding are required, the event differs considerably from horse riding competition due to the danger involved. Because bulls are unpredictable and may attack a fallen rider, rodeo clowns, now known as "bullfighters", work during bull-riding competition to distract the bulls and help prevent injury to competitors.
I’ll stick to golf…
YELLOWSTONE THE PARK
Since most of us are restricting travel to driving trips for the foreseeable future, I’d suggest Yellowstone as a great destination. With over 10,000 geothermal features, 500 of which are geysers, it is another world in Yellowstone. Endless hikes, waterfalls, colors, light, bubbling geothermal basins, bison, wildlife. Definitely worth the trip.
There are those who suggest that the Yellowstone caldera (remember that it is a giant volcano) may blow at any time. But in geologic parlance, that means any century from now…notwithstanding its 2000 earthquakes per year.
Here are the “must see” spots, according to National Geographic (although if you go to less known places, crowds drop quickly): https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/lists/parks/ultimate-yellowstone-road-trip/
But even better is this video filmed by Tom Carter of a buffalo ramming his car in 2015. We went to college together; Tom is a former Yellowstone ranger who wrote the book (literally) on Yellowstone trails: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srLjIZK2y_8
Finally, Andrea and I are watching (well, actually I’m rewatching) the amazing Deadwood. Much of the story is true. Wild Bill Hickok, Seth Bullock, Sol Starr, Calamity Jane, Al Swearingen, and others were real people building the mining camp of Deadwood into a town and helping usher in South Dakota as a state. The series is one of the greatest series ever (up there with The Wire, The Sopranos and Breaking Bad). That’s not just my opinion, but that of numerous critics.
It’s three seasons of Shakespearean dialog and richly drawn characters. It takes a few episodes to build the background and develop the characters (just wait until after Wild Bill gets it in the back with the “dead man’s hand” of aces and eights) but then it’s off to the races. Years after the series ended, a capstone “Deadwood Movie” was released in 2019. It is set ten years later, when South Dakota was on the cusp of statehood. The movie was made under the oversight of David Milch (the creator and writer for the series, also known for NYPD Blue), as he was suffering the advance of Alzheimer’s Disease. It serves as a great denouement to the story of Deadwood and tribute to Mr. Milch. It is rare that one can return to a story years later and tie up loose ends so well. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 98%.
Have a good day,