Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Major League": Bring That S--- To Milwaukee

In addition to being one of the best baseball movies ever, and a lovely dream of Cleveland baseball in the years before its resurgence, "Major League" is the best movie about Cleveland to have been made in Milwaukee....

\The story, of course, is about a ragtag group of baseball misfits who manage to get the Indians to the playoffs. While it has its faults, it's one of those movies that makes me stop and watch every time I happen across it -- never mind that I have seen it a few zillion times and that I have it on DVD. It also inspired two sequels, but they're not in the same, uh, league. ("Major League II" made about $30 million at the box office in 1994, according to Box Office Mojo, less than the $49 million the original film had made five years earlier; "Major League: Back to the Minors" was a 1998 disaster, and remains painful to watch.)

Alas, while the movie feels like Cleveland, and writer-director David S. Ward is both a former Buckeye and a longtime Indians fan, in the commentary on the "Wild Thing Edition" DVD, he says that the only footage actually shot in Cleveland is the opening sequence; producer Chris Chesser later points out that a a helicopter shot late in the film, and all of that was shot by the second unit two weeks after work had been finished on the movie.

In the commentary, Ward justifies the relocation on two grounds: It was cheaper to shoot in Milwaukee, and when they wanted to shoot, the stadium was being used for Browns exhibition games, with football lines on the field which would have been a problem for the production.

But the second-unit stuff at least captures the feel of the city, and there's a famous Cleveland figure in it: baseball fan Sister Mary Assumpta. (Nor should I forget to mention that Lou Brown, the Indians manager, has been found working for the Toledo Mudhens.)

Ward also notes in the commentary that he used Randy Newman's "Burn On" as the opening music because it is the only song he knew that is about Cleveland. But Ian Hunter's "Cleveland Rocks" had been around for a decade; still, it had been used on the soundtrack for "Light of Day" two years before "Major League." The Band had a song called "Look Out Cleveland" on their second album, in the early '70s, but I'm quibbling. "Burn On" is not only a great song, it and Randy Newman's vocal set a nice tone for what follows.

By the way, I looked up the standings for 1989, when "Major League" was released, and 1988, when it was being made, to see how real life stacked up against the Yankees-Indians tie and one-game playoff of the movie.

In '89, Toronto won the AL East; the Yankees finished fifth and 14 1/2 games out, but 1 1/2 games ahead of the Indians. In '88, the Red Sox won a very tight race in the division; the Yankees were fifth but jut 3 1/2 out, the Indians were sixth but 11games out of first. An example of a movie being better than real life.

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