' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...61*

Friday, September 30, 2022

Some Drivel On...61*

As MLB commissioner Ford Frick (Donald Moffat) holds council with several sportswriters over the emerging crisis, from their point of view, that Roger Maris (Barry Pepper) or Mickey Mantle (Thomas Janes) might usurp the hallowed home run record of their fellow New York Yankee Babe Ruth, a framed portrait of The Babe hangs on the wall just over the shoulder of Frick. This puts into perspective how much history looms in director Billy Crystal’s 2001 made for TV chronicling of the summer of 1961’s famed home run chase. Much of the hoopla was fulminated and guided by the press, which Crystal takes great care to evince through his considerable media Greek chorus even as he too frequently uses that press corps as a crutch, expositing information, explaining emotion that should just be explained by the scene itself, the clear budgetary constraints no excuse for limits in aesthetic imagination. Thankfully, Pepper and Jane transcend the sometimes on-the-nose writing of their Odd Couple friendship to produce something real and as surprisingly easy as it is eventually complicated. “61*,” though, never really gets into the head of Roger Maris as he approaches #61, though that is partially a symptom of Maris himself, a character not unlike the Neil Armstrong of Damien Chazelle’s “First Man”: still waters may or may not run deep. Through this lens, he emerges as indifferent pawn and ultimate victim of the harsh light of sports history, which Crystal both seems to realize and not realize at all, turning that victimization into the very dramatic sports movie obstacle that this Roger Maris must hurdle and does, the stately culmination essentially and unironically fitting for Maris for his very own framed portrait on the MLB commissioner’s wall.

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