Thursday, March 24, 2011

Base Up, you Blockheads!

I remember "The Sandlot" for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, if you bought me a beer and asked me if I ever watched it as a kid (this is one of those flicks, by the way, that comes up in normal conversations of nostalgia between two late 20s hipsters, along with "The Goonies"), I'll immediately regail you with the story of how my Grandmother took my sister and I to see it at a theater in Chattanooga during one of those hot summer weeks I was inevetiably sent to spend with her so my mom could catch a break, and how she popped popcorn at home in a kettle and snuck it into the theater in her purse, along with three Cokes we stopped at the gas station to get. It was one of the first times I realized there were suckers in the world, and I was determined not to be one of them!

I always remember "The Sandlot" as being a seminal movie for me; I'm guessing it probably changed the way I look at movies. Watching it recently, and finding myself surprised at the precision with which I could quote lines, anticipate j0kes, and even remember the music ques and sound effects, I guessed I probably watched the movie a ton when I was a kid, which is weird, because when I was a kid, I was only really interested in sneaking into the living room after the folks had gone to bed and watching as much sex and violence on HBO with the volume turned down as I could before I got caught. This was a movie that, while it was still marketed to kids, wouldn't have appealed to me, and we really only went and saw it that one hot afternoon in 1993 because it was either that at the duplex or "Dazed and Confused" (I was 11, and this wouldn't have been appropriate -- still wouldn't be that appropriate with my Grandmother and her bootlegged popcorn). No, even though I wasn't that interested in baseball, or kids who lived in the sixties -- in an America (I thought) I couldn't relate to -- "The Sandlot" got to me, and I'm surprised how well it still holds up to this day, almost twenty years later.

For one thing, maybe I liked it so much because it was a movie with baseball, but it really wasn't about baseball. The baseball is a mere excuse for the kids to get together and say great lines to each other, like "Base up, you blockheads!", "Sorry, we're late, Squints was down at the drug store pervin' a dish", and, of course, the immortal, "For...ev..or, for...evor...for...ev...or."

I liked it, I guess, because the main kid, Smalls, is more like me as a kid than any character under 13 in any movie I think I've ever seen. After this movie came out and became a big hit among the family crowd, most kids wanted to go out and found a Sandlot of their own, a hobby that would be replaced by the desire to start a Fight Club years later. I, however, wanted an erector set, like the kid had in the movie and used to pull off all those neat tricks in the tree house. Smalls is anxious and awkward; he can't stop thinking so much, which stunts him from being a "normal" kid, and when he finally assimilates perfectly into the ragtag bunch that haunts the Sandlot diamond, and drops the brain, it ironically gets him into the biggest "pickle" he had ever known. When I watch the flick now, I love this message that the director, David Mickey Evans, is trying to convey: don't think, but don't be stupid.

Finally, I think "The Sandlot" got to me because it was a movie without any real conflict to speak of. It was part of a genre I would later come to know as Slice-of-Life, which is probably my favorite brand of movies. From "Diner" to "AdventureLand" to "A Christmas Story", there is, to me, no better time at the movies than watching a bunch of characters with their own idiosyncracies and nuances on screen living out their lives and having their own private revelations about existence. Now, as a kid, I'm sure I probably didn't notice this; I'm sure I was too busy laughing at the juvinile dog chase at the end and prepubescently pervin' the dish that was Wendy Peffercorn (Marley Shelton for all you Planet Terror fans). But maybe subconsciously, I was glad to finally see a movie that didn't have winners or losers, a great, big epic fight on the top of a tall building that ended with the villain falling to his death. The kids, like all kids, have their victories and their struggles, and victory always seems to follow directly with struggle, and vice versa. For example, after their win of the epic ball game with the town bullies, the kids go to the carnival, and celebrate by stuffing their mouths with chaw and boarding the tilt-a-whirl, which promptly sends their hot dog lunches all over their shirts, sidewalk, and innocent bystanders. It's the most realistic-looking child vomit ever filmed, by the way; you can almost smell the sawdust used to clean it up.

I hadn't seen "The Sandlot" in years before I watched it recently, partly because it wasn't around and partly because of my conscious adult decision to not watch a kid's movie I remember as being great when I was the perfect age for it, out of a fear that it would be immature and poorly made, not the way I remember it. I want to remember these movies just the way I saw them, back when I thought a flick like "The Mighty Ducks" could've won Best Picture. Of course, the movie has its problems, and I definitely see gaps in it that I would never have noticed years ago. But it's got a genuine charm to it I think was no accident, like Evans was hoping the kids of his audience would remember the Sandlot diamond as adults, and return, along with the narrator, to remember it in all its dusty glory.

I'm glad I returned to the Sandlot. It was just as I remembered it, and from now on, I'll have no problem going back. It's a flick I'm sure I'll be watching...for...evor.

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