Saturday, October 20, 2012

30 in 30 - Day 20: King Of The Hill

A different kind of doc on the list tonight.  Would it be one of interest, or one of...........'meh'?

Going back to the early 70's and baseball at the time. I had never heard of this film and I considered it a bit of a hidden gem when I discovered it.  I had hopes of what the movie would consist of (but had to remember that this doc was produced in the 70's - not in current times and with current equipment).

Tonight's film - King Of The Hill

King Of The Hill (1974)
57 mins.
Rated: NR (there is a little locker room nudity...beware)

"Follows one of the greatest Canadian baseball players of all time, Ferguson Jenkins, through the 1972-73 seasons.  From the hope and innocence of spring training to the dog days of an August slump, the camera gets up close and personal at the home plate and records the intimate chatter on the mound, in the dugout and in the locker room.  It provides a glimpse into the rewards and pressures of sports stardom and the easy camaraderie of the quintessential summer sport."  (source: nfb)

Link to the film - I watched it online via youtube

The opening credits are an instant shot of the 70's.  The colors, the music, the style.  I'm in for a ride.

We catch the Chicago Cubs in spring training.  Simple drills, lots of fun, laughing.  The start of a new season.  We are also introduced to their ace pitcher - Ferguson Jenkins (the best player ever to come out of Canada...hence the Canadian doc).

Jenkins is part of a starting lineup that is paid a total of half a million dollars.  Jenkins (who is expected to play in 40 games) will be paid approx. $3000 per game.  Numbers that are indeed a lifetime ago.

We get a brief history of the Cubs.  Some decent archival photos and quick pace really set the tone for what is hoped to be an interesting season.

The manager of the Cubs is Leo Durocher, who was brought in to save a struggling franchise.  We also meet Fergie's catcher Randy "Red" Hundley, base coach Ernie Banks (yes....that Ernie Banks), 1st baseman Joe Pepitone (oh man, they don't make 'em like that anymore) and Jenkins' best friend, outfielder Billy Williams.

We catch up with the Cubs on opening day.  A hard-fought win is emphasized by some great footage and intimate audio of Jenkins as he works the mound.  While a little long and repetitive, it's still cool to see (and hear) baseball like this in a way not seen at the time. I think we take it for granted these days.

We meet Ferguson's wife and kids as well as Fergie Sr. who talks about his son growing up.  It's cool to step away from the field and get a better sense of the person away from the game.

We pick up the game action at the Houston Astrodome (at the was way ahead of its time).  Fergie struggles and the Cubs come up on the losing end.  Next up is Pittsburgh and the result is the same.  I start thinking that this is a rough documentary if it's supposed to make Jenkins look good.

Finally, after a bit of infighting, Durocher is let go.  The mood in the clubhouse improves.

We get a glimpse of contract talk with Fergie and his agent.  Again, it's amazing to hear the numbers thrown around and realize that they are the top numbers in the game.  Peanuts these days.

Ferguson suffers a bit of a leg injury and so it's some work by the trainer and some rehab.  The talk turns to the "purpose pitch"...high and inside.  Again, some great footage and good talk comes of it.

It's at this point I realize that this film crew has some tremendous access to these guys and I feel like I'm getting a little short-changed with what I'm seeing.  It's all surface stuff.  It has little impact.  I'm not as invested as I was hoping to be.

Near the end of the season, Jenkins is getting booed by the Cubs fans and he requests a trade.  Then (for some reason), it's off season.  We see the guys hunting and fishing.  A definite segue this is not.

Ferguson Jenkins gets his wish and is traded to Texas before the start of the next season.  The Cubs team as a whole is blown up and some great players on that team move on.

It's spring training all over again.

There's some definite cool aspects about this doc.  The audio is really good (even if they had to overdub some of it).  It really made me feel like I was getting the inside look.  But all that access was for what?  To see Jenkins play some bad ball?  There could have been a much stronger story told I think.

The radio play-by-play of Jack Brickhouse is fantastic.  It really takes me back to a time when baseball was not a business, but a sport.  Even though this footage was shot at a time when I was just a wee baby, it still connected with me in that way.

A stronger story and less repetitive footage would have strongly improved this doc.  By the way, the clothes in this film and the sideburns are worth the look alone.

2.5 out of 5

Here are some other reviews I found online for the film...

Rotten Tomatoes ( help here)

Up next - Fire On The Track

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