The Ghosts Of Flatbush
HBO • Wednesday, July 11 (8 p.m.)
Probably no defunct or relocated pro-sports team has been chronicled as extensively as the Brooklyn Dodgers — and particularly the men involved with the franchise from 1947 to 1957, the span which stemmed Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color line through the franchise's departure for Los Angeles and the period that changed the Dodgers from National League laughing stock to perennial pennant winner.
The two-part, two-hour documentary hits the key highlights, moving briskly through the Dodgers' pre-1947 history and picking things up at the franchise's transformative moment: Robinson's signing. Unfortunately, if you've watched or read the myriad of materials about Robinson's arrival in the big leagues in this 60th anniversary year, it's all material that's been well-documented.
But there's a lot more Brooklyn baseball lore that gets left on the cutting room floor: there's nary a mention of Larry McPhail, the executive who set the table for Branch Rickey in the years before World War II; Leo Durocher's defection to the Giants is mentioned briefly; and Red Barber is also mentioned in passing.
But there are also some good unseen nuggets: Great film footage from cowbell lady Hilda Chester and the Dodger Sym-Phony; actual clips from the famed pregame show for kids, Happy Felton's Knothole Gang; and lots of personal remembrances from the players involved.
But, ironically, it's the half-hour or so on the Dodgers decamping for Hollywood that's the most interesting. Of particular note: film footage of a sit-down between owner Walter O'Malley and Robert Moses, New York City's powerful construction czar, at which Moses' disdain for O'Malley's plan for a downtown Brooklyn domed stadium — and the man himself — are written all over his face. While O'Malley's not painted as a victim, the documentary assigns Moses his fair share of blame for the Bums' departure. It's worth tuning in just to get this balanced take on the second Dodger move to change the face of Major League Baseball.
— Michael Demenchuk
Spielberg On Spielberg
Turner Classic Movies • Monday, July 9 (8 p.m.)
Toward the end of Spielberg on Spielberg, the acclaimed filmmaker talks about how understanding between people often becomes deeper and more meaningful when they don't speak the same language. A viewer can only wish that this insightful segment had occurred earlier in the TCM documentary, considering how central overcoming such barriers are to many of his films.
It's one of the few quibbles in an otherwise engaging work in which Spielberg, who has yet to supplement his film DVDs with commentary, takes viewers through much of his canon, including glimpses of teenage debut Firelight and professional premiere Amblin'.
Split into various chapters, the director unwinds, to various lengths and degrees, with his thoughts on Sugarland Express, Jaws, E.T., the Indiana Jones franchise, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List and more recent entries, Munich and The Terminal. Surprisingly, in that he calls The Color Purple his “first grownup film,” his adaptation of the Alice Walker novel receives scant attention, while Empire of the Sun, featuring Christian Bale's debut, receives a lengthy fly-by.
Along the way, reminiscences and tidbits emerge: how a pink slip of a different order keyed his career; the “points” he traded with George Lucas; the uncharted four weeks it took to shoot the 26-minute opener of Saving Private Ryan; when he knew 1941 was going to sink; and why Close Encounters of the Third Kind would be a vastly different film today.
Produced by Richard Schickel, who created similar programs about Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese for TCM, Spielberg on Spielberg is 90 minutes largely well-spent.
— Mike Reynolds