Volume 1, Issue 23
By Angel Zobel-Rodriguez
Over the last few years, I've heard from many people who want to see a good "bowling movie" put out by Hollywood. Bowling hasn't been absent from the big screen, but the images depicted were not always the most flattering to the sport or its participants.
Several years ago, Greedy with Michael J. Fox left me feeling "greedy." I wanted more bowling scenes after the few bowling shots the movie opened with. Although Kingpin was a comedy bordering on farce, it featured the absolute dregs of the social order, and called them bowlers. The people in the movie weren't likely the kind of guys you bowl league with. This year's Big Lebowski was either a movie you loved or hated, but it wasn't a "bowling" movie, they were low-lifers that bowled. They could have been softball players, dart enthusiasts, or inline skaters--the movie would have been the same.
Bowlers are still waiting for a real "bowling movie." A movie where the equipment is technically or historically accurate, and the bowlers aren't tacky or offensive. A movie where perhaps the bowlers are even gainfully employed. The movie, Pleasantville, which opened Friday, isn't a bowling movie per se, but it does have a great scene about bowling and it left me with a few things to think about. Most folks have probably seen the previews already, and I'll try hard not to make this a movie review, but if you've got a few bucks, see this one as a matinee or wait to see it on video by Christmas.
Pleasantville is about a brother and sister who are transported to a fictional TV town and their very presence changes the lives of the residents. Before the '90s high school students arrive, everything is pleasantly perfect--the families, the neighborhood, the lawns, the high school basketball team. The movie trailers show that great scene where the basketball players sink EVERY shot during practice. The high school basketball team has never even lost a game.
I was dreading that when it came to the bowling scene, it could only mean one thing, that everyone would be throwing 300 games. Easy scoring conditions like those that make today's serious bowler complain, and make bowling look like child's play. Just what the sport needs, I thought, is a bunch of guys in bad apparel, smoking thick stogies, and throwing each shot from anywhere on the lane, and the pins falling. Yet, I was in for a "pleasant" surprise. While everything that happens in Pleasantville is perfect, in the bowling scene, "perfect" means strikes and spares. The telescore shows not a single 300 among the scores. Mind you, that there are no opens, and apparently 7-10s are a bit easier to convert in Pleasantville, but a nonbowling theater audience saw the humor in converting lane after lane of 7-10 splits. A clean game is the ideal in bowling? *sigh* Hey, a bowler can dream.
But the more I thought about it, in the late 1950s, perfection in bowling was measured by making marks, and not in strings. Back when accuracy meant hitting your board, not your arrow, when the Manhattan Rubber was the ball of choice, and when people wouldn't laugh at a character who said, "We're safe for now. Thank goodness we're in a bowling alley." And considering it was set in the '50s, "alley" was the correct term.
Now I'm not naive enough to believe that the producers of Pleasantville went out of their way to be historically accurate in one minor scene of the movie. But I will say I am thankful. The bowlers were all townsfolk--Chamber of Commerce members and the Mayor were bowling! The shirts were definitely reminiscent of old bowling shirts, but it was one of the few scenes I wished had been in color so I could go find one. The shirts were that cool.
Maybe before we worry about a "bowling movie," we should see the positive in a movie where bowling is cast in a positive light. We need to gain the right kind of exposure before we'll ever convince nonbowlers in Hollywood there is a story in bowling. I'll take a few tastefully done scenes over what we've seen on the big screen lately.