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Monday, November 26, 2007

On Durham, Hollywood, and storytelling

Looks like i missed my opportunity to be the first to weigh in on John Schwade's column in the Durham News over the weekend, about the movies. But that's OK. I was having too good a time enjoying Durham to think about our town's image.

Schwade, in a piece called "When Hollywood calls, Bull Citizens always play the fool," takes issue with the portrayal of Durham in the national media, beginning with the classic "Bull Durham."
The rubes in the stands were presumably content to listen to a stadium announcer -- one of many locals who spoke in a parody of a Durham accent -- who would have had her microphone unplugged at a Little League game. Her condolence to a strikeout victim -- "Too bad, Butch, better luck next time" -- was more appropriate for Bulls fans who had hoped for a better movie.

Radio listeners endured an inarticulate play-by-play announcer who couldn't have been more unlike the future major leaguer at the microphone during the 1986 season, Gary Cohen, who has been broadcasting New York Mets games since 1989.

Leaving aside the fact that, after 15 years in town i couldn't begin to tell you what constitutes a "Durham accent," let's try to remember that "Bull Durham" is a story about two people in their thirties coming to terms with the loss of their youth, acknowledging that their dreams of glory are not going to come true, and finding happiness with each other anyway. Baseball simply provides a wrapper to tell this story, and Durham is only brush strokes filling in the edges. The storytellers have no more obligation to "accuracy" than did the makers of "Young Mr. Lincoln" or "The Green Berets". Or "Major League", which portrays a Cleveland that is much further removed from "reality" than anything in "Bull Durham."(Let me add here that, like Kevin, i saw this movie before moving to Durham, and found nothing unflattering in it's protrayal of the town or its people.)

It's no different for the documentaries. There's no such thing as minute-by-minute, historically accurate portrayal of the people, places, and events that make up our past. It's all story, and it's all filtered, and it's all, at least the good stuff, presented to create meaning where none exists. Our obligation, if we think the story is wrong, or the meaning irrelevant or simplistic, is to retell the story and give it the meaning we think it should have.

Besides, everyone knows that if you want historically accurate protrayals of North Carolina life, the way it really was, you stop searching at The Andy Griffith Show.

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  • well said. If someone wants raw Durham captured with historical accuracy on celluloid, then get check out from the Durham Co. Library H. Lee Waters' Durham: 1939 to 1943

    By Blogger nicomachus, at 1:26 PM  

  • Amen. I have lived in both places made famous by Costner baseball flicks, and I can attest that "Field of Dreams" doesn't show an "accurate" portrait of Iowans, either. Big deal--as Barry says, it's a Hollywood movie, It's about story, not accuracy.

    Mega dittos on the value of Andy Griffith too. Barney Fife is the patron saint of all relocated yanks in the Ole North State. What happened to the Ernest T. Bass contingent, though?

    By Anonymous hovercraft, at 6:07 PM  

  • Certainly people chasing after money in the outfield is undignified. How dare they portray Durham like that.

    The real Durham experience is people catching stuffed animals in their pants and knocking each other down wearing sumo costumes.

    By Anonymous cd, at 8:17 AM  

  • "What happened to the Ernest T. Bass contingent, though?"

    Having grown up in the /real/ Mayberry (Mt. Airy), I can tell you that the Ernest T. Bass contingent is still in full force up thar. :-)

    By Blogger e.jack, at 9:20 AM  

  • Bull Durham actually made me want to visit Durham way back when it came out. I did visit several years after the movie came out ... and then, what do you know, I actually ended up moving here.

    By Blogger Lisa B., at 9:11 AM  

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