Good afternoon, Lookout Landing. As some of you may already know, I recently moved from my Pacific Northwest home of 27 years to the East coast, where I have started a graduate program in Film Studies. As a result, I have been faced with a tumultuous series of transitions, not the least of which has required me to put extra effort into catching Mariners games that now start and end three hours later than I am used to. In addition, my coursework has given me no real opportunity to combine my love of the game of baseball with my love of the art of cinema (unless we're talking about baseball movies, that is, in which case the correct answer to the question of the best one of all time is, in fact, John Sayles' Eight Men Out, regardless of the existence of those Kevin Costner atrocities).
But of course, the good news is that I follow a baseball team that provides me each March with a series of brilliant...well...for the sake of this piece I'm going to call them short films, in order to drum up excitement for the ensuing sportball season. These
short films commercials were released online yesterday, and I thought here I'd offer up a close reading of each so as to better understand the context for the state of Seattle baseball in 2015, where the Mariners stand, and what it means that each of these games could possibly be leading to the first playoff appearance in the Emerald City in over a decade. So without further ado, let's take a look at what the M's have given us this year.
1. Where Does it Go?
Where Does it Go? is easily the standout work of the four films, and will arguably be canonized in cinematic history alongside Bat Flip (2003), Larry Bernandez (2011), and the sentimental documentary sleeper hit, Jamie Moyer Tribute (2006). But while the narrative arc of Where Does it Go? seems to be a story that easily writes itself--who among us has not wondered where Fernando Rodney's arrow actually goes after each game?--the film shines through strikingly naturalistic performances from Nelson Cruz and our poor, unnamed A's fan in the third act, who finds his child's inflatable castle ruined seemingly yet again by our infamous pitcher with a crooked hat.
But the true brilliance of Where lies in the way the film structures our perspective as spectators within the diegesis of the narrative. You may think Where to be a simple exercise in post-game fantasy with a touch of humor, but the film actually makes each of us complicit in Rodney's acts of sabotage through its use of suture--the placement of the camera that figuratively stitches us into the narrative of the film. Take a look:
From the establishing shot of the film, Where places us (the camera) between the pitchers mound and the first base line--importantly, to provide us perspective of where Rodney's arrow is actually going to travel (over the outfield wall). Our gaze, then, becomes tied to the very gaze of these three baseball players as they themselves join us in looking to see where the arrow has landed. But then, an important switch happens:
At this point, Where has moved us closer to the source of the action, actually engaging us in the conversation seemingly through the eyes of Fernando Rodney, simply by moving the camera to his subjective position. We are now all, each of us, the league leader in saves, donning crooked hats and shooting arrows of malice to destroy the hopes and dreams of each opposing team's fanbase. We do this as Mariners. We do this as spectators, simply by watching.
What Where tells us, then is that we are all shooters of arrows, each and every one of us. We are all Fernando Rodney. We are all the Seattle Mariners. And for that, the film succeeds magnificently in internalizing what should prove to be a most externalized experience this summer.
2. Bat Control
Although the rapid-fire editing of Bat Control moves us through spaces we could never naturally travel in such a short rate of time, the film picks up the Neorealist tendencies of filmmakers such as Roberto Rosselini and Vittorio De Sica by offering a scathing critique of late capitalism and the commodification--nay, perversion--of the American sporting industry into nothing but pure, abstract exchange.
The first thing you will notice in Bat Control is the subtle way in which the film offers us very little by way of mediated professionalization: each of the figures appearing in this film are, arguably, doing little more than playing the roles they actually "play" in real life. Robinson Cano is taking batting practice, Mariners' hitting coach Howard Johnson and manager Lloyd McClendon appear as laborers, simply enacting the very work they do each and every day.
As Cano takes his cuts, Johnson begins goading him into hitting certain designated areas in the outfield: the left field wall, the berm behind centerfield. But the undergirding class distinctions running throughout the Peoria Sports Complex cannot be simply sated with mere athletic performance, and in the spirit of the classic political polemic found throughout the Italian Neorealist tradition, we suddenly find ourselves in a distinct battle with the damaging forces of late capitalism, of which Ernest Mandel and Frederic Jameson have noted exemplifies the increased commodification of the social forces that enmesh our everyday lives, industrializing the cultural into pure capital. Peanuts, a cup of beer, a physical view monetized and striated into separate sections, with higher prices for better points of perspective.
Quickly, things turn sour. Bat Control suddenly shows us the discordant class struggle rising up between these opposing labor groups as Cano is instructed by his supervisors to attack a peanut vendor, a tech consumer flashing a 'selfie stick,' and finally, a man posting flyers on Lloyd McClendon's car, both a symptom and a cause of the increasing invasion of finance capital into the realm of the social here in America's once unspoiled pastime made eternal on the mythical nineteenth century Elysian fields.
But the film breaks from tradition in interesting ways. Rather than allowing us to identify solely with the downtrodden proletariat laborers, Bat instead offers a nuanced depiction of the discord and waste laid bare by late capital and the emergence of the postmodern twenty-first century by showing us the effects of such violence and malice. We should be quick to remember that the man attacking the elements of capital in Bat is a man who just recently signed a $240 million dollar contract with a billion-dollar technology corporation himself. As a result, the film offers us perhaps the most prescient actualization of Marx' view that what the bourgeoise actually produces, above all, are its own grave diggers.
The only step left, for each of us, is to take up Johnson's call, and demand $3 beers at Safeco. Demand free parking. The choice is yours, and as Bat Control wants us to know, it can only be done through the work of our hands.
3. Hawt Corner
Hawt Corner, and the music video that inspired it, exist as solemn reminders of the permanence of temporal decay, the ever-forward march of time that pulls us out of history and sets us on a path from cradle to grave that no human in the history of civilization has ever diverted from.
Our first images of Corner provide us with the action of Kyle Seager, Mariners third baseman and recent Gold Glove winner now entering the prime of his career with a recent 5.5 fWAR season under his belt. But Seager, who signed a seven-year, $100 million dollar extension this winter, rose out of the third round with years in the minors not as a flashy, young prospect in the Bryce Harper mold but rather as a quiet, introspective athlete, making his first real mark on the sport at the age of 27 years and 4 months. It has taken him time to get to this point, valuable time that has now been forever relegated to the canals of memory and regret, loss and experience.
With little explanation, Corner suddenly shifts its perspective and provides us with an utterly surreal--and unexplained--appearance of an 80's glam metal band set up between third and second base.
Fascinatingly, the film never provides us with evidence that the images we are privy to represent an objective reality, or if they are, ultimately, buried within Seager's unconscious. At one point, he grabs a slow grounder and volleys it over to first base, finding the glove of Logan Morrison to get the out called emphatically by the umpire in the background.
At no point in this sequence, however, do Morrison, the Umpire, or the A's runner stop to say Hey wait, why is there a hair metal band set up where Brad Miller is supposed to be playing? because that would be, quite literally, the weirdest thing that has ever happened in a baseball game in the history of the world. No, instead, we see only Seager responding to the display, which seems to suggest the band is an embodied representation of his subconscious fear of death, linking the trauma of childhood to the decay of adult life through a metaphor Freud would have used had he been born one hundred years later: the phallic exuberance of 1980's hair metal and materialistic culture.
I would like to argue here that Corner's use of a glam metal band serves a distinct purpose of temporalizing memory within a small period in American history, say, 1984 to 1987--notably the year in which Seager was born. This trauma buried within his subconscious then seems to represent that unattainable past linked to his awakening as a subject, the unchanged source of life now forever separated by the forward march of time that removes him from any possibility of immortality. In this sense, the band is the past, pure memory haunting each and every ground ball Seager grabs as he realizes that he has just entered the twilight of his career, moving ever closer to thirty, and forty, letting bloopers roll past sore knees and watching triples sink to doubles sink to singles.
And let it be noted that the group is spotted up exactly in Brad Miller's position in the infield, corporealizing Miller's long hair as a symbol of youth to Seager, who recently started shaving his head after his hairline began receding up his skull. Time moves ever forward, and death awaits us all. In this sense, we are haunted much in the same way as a Herzog film, enslaved to our bodies and our movement in space and time, left stranded forever on the bench of regret as we watch our careers fade into dust, haunted by memories of the past, ringing in our ears like the siren song of death sung by two spectres of history:
4. Intensely Intense
What at first appears to be a bizarre take on the nature of photography with...a mime? suddenly becomes clearer when we realize that Intense is actually a spirited remake of Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 modernist masterpiece, Blowup. In Blowup, Antonioni provides us with the rather rambunctious character of Thomas, a photographer in London who accidentally captures evidence of a murder while out taking photos in a grassy park, and his quest to get to the bottom of the mystery before anyone else can find out.
As with many of his films, Antonioni gives us very little in the concrete to grasp onto in Blowup, as Thomas' attempt to literally blow-up each picture to uncover evidence provides him with nothing tangible to understand--a critical depiction of the loss of meaning as the modern gave way to the post-modern, and we as subjects find ourselves situated in a world of nothing but empty signifiers. The film famously ends with the following bizarre sequence, as Thomas returns to the scene of the crime to uncover evidence but is met, instead, with a troupe of mimes playing an invisible game of tennis that ends us enrapturing our protagonist, eternally seeking answers he is unable to find.
The true genius of Intense, however, is not simply through an appropriation of Antonioni's visual iconography. Intense provides us with many of the same questions of capital-M Meaning elided with the nature of photography itself, as Felix Hernandez looks at images of himself not blown up through photochemical processes in a darkroom, but rather instantaneously, on Mike Zunino's phone.
The conflict arising between Zunino, Iwakuma, Paxton, and Happ here is not a conflict against Felix, per se, but it is rather indicative of the gap standing between us in the audience (sutured, or stuck to the gaze of Zunino, holding the image in his hand), and the visage of the unknowable, the sublime, embodied in one screaming Felix Hernandez. Felix' inability to contain himself within the world of the camera's frame mirrors the world's incapability of containing Felix Hernandez, a pitcher who has racked up nearly 2,000 strikeouts and a career fWAR of 47.2 before the age of 29.
Felix, then, remains utterly unrepresentable--the face of our encounter with the infinite. As Intense draws to a close, then, we once again remember the mimes given to us by Antonioni decades before, and we are left with nothing but an image of professional baseball players and a mime stranded in the background, an eternal reminder that King Felix Hernandez will always and forever remain one step removed from the rest of us measly human beings, bowing down in his greatness, forever and ever. Also there's a mime.
All in all, it's a set of wonderful commercials yet again from a Mariners PR team that proves itself to be the best in the game year in and year out. Although many of us long for the halcyon days of Light Bat (1996), we should be apt to remember we stand now on the precipice of a new era of greatness, that the classics don't remain locked in the past but are rather, one step ahead of us as well.