“How about that?”

March 2, 2009

HANK BAUER, TOM STURDIVANT, MICKEY MANTLE

HANK BAUER, TOM STURDIVANT, and MICKEY MANTLE

It wasn’t enough that this snow storm is disrupting my life; I had to wake up to the news that Tom Sturdivant had died. There may be more glamor attached to Yankee teams of other eras, but when names like Tom Sturdivant, Art Ditmar, Andy Carey, and Hank Bauer bob to the surface, I am again sitting on a summer evening on the step in front of our grocery store, tuning my GE transistor radio until I hear the voices of Mel Allen and Red Barber. I was in paradise, and I knew it: I’m glad of that, at least. During Sturdivant’s brief time as a top starter for the Yankees, I was in high school, I wasn’t serious about life, and others were looking after my welfare. I wasn’t concerned because Mickey Mantle was a drunk, Billy Martin was a brawler, and Enos Slaughter was a racist. These were my gods when they were on the field; I asked nothing more. I won’t look back at more recent Yankee teams with the same naive sentiment – and not because the teams and players have changed, except in the details of their fallibility. I already know – intellectually, at least – that I’ll never sit on that front step again and listen to those southern voices turn the progress of a game into poetry. On this cold day, I didn’t need to be reminded.

frank-langella-41At the suggestion of a friend who seems to have unerring taste, we watched “Starting Out in the Evening,” a 2007 film with Frank Langella, Lauren Ambrose, and Lili Taylor. This film, based on a book by Brian Norton, concerns Leonard Schiller, a retired professor whose run as a successful novelist is behind him. He keeps up a rigid routine as he works on his fifth novel, but it already has been ten years in the making. His books are out of print, and he is forgotten by everyone except the occasional literary wonk. One of the latter is Heather Wolfe (Ambrose), an Ivy League graduate student who wants to base her master’s thesis on Schiller’s work and who thinks she can simultaneously call him the reading public’s attention. Schiller at first rejects the idea of such a distraction, then cautiously agrees to cooperate with the student, and eventually becomes involved in a uniquely delicate personal relationship with the young woman. The secondary and related plot involves Schiller’s daughter, Ariel (Taylor), who is about to turn 40 and is anxious about  her prospects for ever having children. Her decision to renew a relationship with a former boyfriend – for whom Leonard has no respect – is a source of tension between her and her father. Beneath both of these plots is a critical part of Leonard Schiller’s life – the turning point in his marriage – that he had hoped would remain buried in the past.

The complex story which explores issues of  personal freedom is very nicely performanced by Langella, Ambrose, Taylor and Adrian Lester as Ariel’s rediscovered lover.  Those who wish to can become engrossed in matters of literary criticism – the subject of a lot of the dialogue in this film – but the complex human stories these actors tell were enough to keep us from looking away.