Film and Baseball: Character Development

Let me introduce myself: I'm John Dorhauer - not that this should mean anything to anyone outside of the Dorhauer clan.

I don't tell you who I am hoping that you will say, "Oh, THAT John Dorhauer." I tell you because I’m hoping you will say, “Oh, NOT that John Dorhauer. I am, in fact, the elder son of John Dorhauer, John Dorhauer. If that confused you at all, then you have somewhat of an idea what it was like to grow up sharing a first name with your father but not a middle name (I’m not Jr. because of it).

Anyway, I thought it would be appropriate for me to begin my writing for our site by talking a little about why I love baseball so much. One of the great things about the pastime is that it can be appreciated on so many different levels. Who wouldn’t be left in awe by something like a towering 450-foot blast or witnessing your favorite team claim a World Series championship (and believe me, I know)? The game can also be appreciated on a deeper, more intellectual level, and this is where I get the greatest enjoyment from watching.

To put this aspect of the game into perspective, I’m going to use one of my other great passions: film. And no, I’m not talking about the likes of Four Christmases. I refer only to filmmaking that is guided by an artistic conscience and the boldness to make a unique statement. One of my favorite traits to watch for in these films is character development, which is a cinematic element that permits the film’s characters the time and space they need to naturally reveal themselves to the viewer rather than bludgeoning you over the head with impractical dialogue and an unnaturally dense plot.

A director who is particularly adept at incorporating character development is Paul Thomas Anderson. His three most recent features – Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and There Will Be Blood – are all master classes on this. Love and Blood both follow their main characters (even thought they are the antithesis of the other) as they progress as individuals, often using extended stretches of limited-to-no dialogue to do so. Magnolia, while using a wide array of characters across multiple story lines, is propelled by the development of its characters through their daily interactions rather than its plot to reach its stunning yet moving climax. A couple other polarizing examples to further illustrate my point: Elephant, a Gus Van Sant film, is an extreme yet fabulous example of character development, as its protagonists are portrayed in a purely naturalist perspective with virtually no dialogue, which makes their demise all the more heart-breaking and tragic. Wall-E, on the other hand, is a beautifully animated film disguised as a family flick that spends its first 45 minutes doing nothing but developing its protagonist with zero conversational dialogue. With the possible exceptions of There Will Be Blood and Wall-E, none of these films are all that appealing at a surface level. All of these films, however, blow you away when you allow yourself to be immersed in the simplistic, natural beauty that is blended with a dash of magic realism – while you can definitely tell that you’re watching a fictional film, you feel that these characters are real people to whom you can relate.

So what in the world does this have to do with baseball? To me, baseball is like a good arty flick – it gives its “characters” and their various situations the time and space they need to fully flourish, and only the conditioned and alert eye can pick up on these things. And while you don’t have the same emotional connection with Albert Pujols as you do with Wall-E, the parallel between these two exists in the way that they stimulate you intellectually.

This angle can be interpreted in a couple different ways. For example, it can describe how you can follow the development of players throughout the game as they learn from and correct their mistakes. It’s like when a pitcher picks up on how a given batter has a tendency of chasing sliders and uses that to strike him out, or how a hitter goes opposite field on a pitcher who continually pitches him away. Character development in baseball also occurs when you get the chance to experience the greats live out their careers. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to see two of the game’s greatest pitchers – Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson – throughout the bulk of their careers, and witnessing this has had a profound impact on my appreciation of the game.

Perhaps my favorite intellectual stimulation in regard to baseball is simply by watching each inning unfold and trying to decipher every little thing that happens. Maybe the centerfielder shades a little to one side because of the hitter or because of the pitch about to be thrown. Maybe the runner on first takes a slightly wider lead to try to get inside the pitcher’s head. Everything in baseball happens for a reason, and sometimes I feel like I could watch one inning for hours and still not absorb everything there is to know about what just happened.

Anyone who knows me knows that I could talk your ear off about either film or baseball, which is largely because both appeal to the satisfaction of my intellectual curiosity. When both are done well, they allot you the chance to see something subtle and beautiful unfold at just the perfect pace. Most importantly, however, both provide you with something to relate to, something to love, and something to cheer for.

1 comments:

Kincaid said...

Elephant is probably the most disturbing film I've ever seen.

You neglected to mention Roger Clemens in your list of great pitchers. What greater character development have we witnessed in the game than Rocket sitting in front of Congress or explain the biology of third ears on 60 Minutes?

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