DID YOU READ

When Major Leaguers Play Themselves: “Headin’ Home”

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03312008_headinhome.jpgBy Matt Singer

Baseball players and movie stars aren’t all that different, really. They both entertain people for a living. They both make obscene amounts of money. Fans want autographs from both. And certainly, many movie stars have wanted to be baseball players — just last month, Billy Crystal risked potential humiliation by playing in a spring training game for his beloved New York Yankees.

In his one at bat, Crystal struck out, which is kind of fitting considering that in the few times that big-time major leaguers have ventured onto the silver screen, the results have generally been equally unsuccessful — despite the fact that these men have often played themselves, roles they really should have had more than a passing familiarity with. Then again, Hollywood has so often mangled the truths of these guys’ stories, who’s to blame them for looking so lost in their own lives?

In honor of the start of the 2008 baseball season, IFC News will be paying tribute to the national pastime’s long relationship with the movies every day this week by giving you everything you’d ever want to know about these odd little quasi-autobiographical ditties. Peanuts and crackerjacks not included.

03312008_headinhome2.jpg“Headin’ Home” (1920)
Directed by Lawrence C. Windom
As Himself: Babe Ruth

Game Summary: An old codger from George Herman Ruth Jr.’s hometown of Haverlock reminisces about the Babe’s rise to stardom from the right field stands of the Polo Grounds. Through flashbacks, we see Babe, a town misfit who towers over everyone he meets, help his foster sister, Pigtails (Frances Victory), out of a few mild scrapes. Eventually, a traveling baseball squad comes to town to challenge Haverlock’s best. Babe isn’t permitted to play, but an illness on the opposing team forces him into the their lineup, a development upon which he wins the game with a prodigious home run. Unfortunately for Babe, that drives a wedge between him and the rest of the community (as in they chase him through the streets with pitchforks). Ultimately, Babe’s heart and his newfound baseball stardom endear him to the townspeople.

On-Field Achievements: Do they even need mentioning? Look at it this way: A lifetime .342 hitter, Babe Ruth remains the only guy in history who could hit .393, win the Most Valuable Player Award and consider it an off year. Two seasons earlier, Ruth hit for a lower average (a paltry .378) while knocking in 59 home runs and a staggering 171 RBIs. By the way, he also had 16 triples. That’s four more than Jose Reyes had last season.

On-Screen Achievements: As if he’s Paul Bunyan or something, Babe actually chops down a tree and spends half the movie whittling it down into a workable, if impressively massive, bat. He also tosses one character he doesn’t like into a lake with such nonchalance, it’s flabbergasting. Those old newsreels of Ruth show him hitting the ball, but you never get to see where they land, so watching him just manhandle his co-stars like they were made of cardboard really gives a good sense of how this guy could routinely launch balls 450 feet into the air.

Errors Committed: Practically too many to mention. Though the film purports to be the true story of the Great Bambino’s formative years, it bears almost no resemblance to his real life. If there is a real Haverlock, Ruth isn’t from there; he was born in Baltimore, and grew up mostly in a reformatory. He didn’t have any foster sisters, and I’m guessing he got his bats from Louisville Slugger just like everybody else. It’s also worth noting that while “Headin’ Home” was made after Ruth had spent just one year with the Yanks, no mention is made of his time with the Boston Red Sox. Interestingly, the film is produced by an entity called the “Yankee Photo Corporation.” Hmm…coincidence?

Discoveries: Growing up in Little League, the one thing you never wanted the other kids on the team to see you do (other than kissing your mom goodbye when she dropped you off at practice) was choking up on your bat. This was a sign of great, unforgivable weakness; you were better off using your little brother’s T-ball bat than choking up on the one the coach gave you. What, then, to make of Ruth at the plate in “Headin’ Home” where he visibly chokes up every time he gets his hands on a piece of lumber? If only I knew about this movie when I was 11 — a lot of mockery could have been avoided.

Substitutions: Though the Babe’s popped up in small roles here and there (Ruth even played himself again in the Lou Gehrig biopic “The Pride of the Yankees”), he only took center stage in two other films, where he was played by other actors: 1948’s “The Babe Ruth Story,” in which he’s portrayed by William Bendix, and 1992’s “The Babe,” featuring John Goodman and a gelatinous layer of flop sweat as the Sultan of Swat.

Final Score: As biography, “Headin’ Home” is just about worthless. As a silent comedy, it’s not terrible, and the always charismatic Ruth manages just fine in his role; the fact that he didn’t need to worry about dialogue doesn’t hurt him either. The picture ends with a beautifully edited Ruth at bat. As the pitcher looks in, there’s a flurry of close-ups: Ruth’s feet in the batter’s box, his meaty hands gripping the bat, and a shot focused on his eyes peering intensely into the camera, with the rest of the frame blacked out. Cut back to the pitcher as he winds up and with an effortless swing, the ball is launched and the game and movie is over.

[Photos: Babe Ruth in “Headin’ Home,” 1920; Poster for “Headin’ Home]

Part 2: Joe DiMaggio in “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round”
Part 3: Lou Gehrig in “Rawhide”
Part 4: Jackie Robinson in “The Jackie Robinson Story”
Part 5: Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in “Safe at Home!”; Keith Hernandez on “Seinfeld”

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.