John Schwade had a fascinating op-ed piece in Saturday's The Durham News with his perspective on "Bull Durham," almost twenty years after its release. Personally, as someone who first watched the movie before I was a resident, my first impressions of the Bull City on celluloid were of an aged Southern town with a most-certainly "minor league" feel.
Of course, the Durham of twenty years ago was a city between the manufacturing and industrial roots -- and 1960s/1970s turmoil and social upheaval -- of its past, and the growth and transformation witnessed over the past decade in particular. Still, Schwade's description of the gap between what he thought Bull Durham would portray (as someone responding to the ads to become an extra in the movie) and what it actually did show is striking:
When "Bull Durham" premiered in June, 1988, reviewer Roger Ebert gushed, "There are quiet little scenes that have the ring of absolute accuracy." But there was more bull than Durham in the depiction of Durham Bulls fans, beginning with the quality of the baseball they paid to see. . . .
The rubes in the stands were presumably content to listen to a stadium announcer -- one of many locals who spoke in a parody of a Durham accent -- who would have had her microphone unplugged at a Little League game. Her condolence to a strikeout victim -- "Too bad, Butch, better luck next time" -- was more appropriate for Bulls fans who had hoped for a better movie. . . .
Although it is home to the Research Triangle Park, Duke University, N.C. Central University, and as many bright, interesting people as any like-sized city in the USA, only biased depictions of Durham earn lucrative endorsements. . . .
Moviemakers' treatment of this city was symbolized by a scene in "Bull Durham." As a promotional stunt, a helicopter dropped cash onto the field and hovered as spectators jostled while chasing the money being blown about by its rotors. In reality, it's the moviemakers themselves who have trampled Durhamites while pursuing dollars.
Schwade makes this point in reference to a number of Durham-filmed productions, including "Kiss the Girls" and the documentary "Welcome to Durham, USA," but it's clear that producer Thom Mount's treatment of Durham was far from what our correspondent expected to see.
Well, it's been twenty years hence, and Mount -- who rose to success helming Universal Pictures, though he has apparently struggled to find another commercial hit in recent years -- has been widely mentioned as looking to go back to the Bull City well for another film production. In 2006, the Indy Weekly ran a story on Mount's purported plans to film "Main Street U.S.A.," a production set back forty or fifty years in Durham's history. The Indy noted Horton Foote had been tapped as screenwriter and quoted a film industry production newsletter as stating the production would be ""revolv[ing] around the efforts of a large corporation to hoodwink a small Southern town and the Southerners' unusual and successful defense," but further details of the production have been scarce.
Well, camera crews haven't exactly been seen hanging out of Main Street, but the New York Times ran an interesting interview with Horton Foote this summer, presenting a slightly more detailed description of the film's subject matter (emphasis added):
Foote handed him a rewrite of a final draft — the story focuses on five characters in Durham who get caught up in a scheme to rejuvenate the town’s economy by housing nuclear waste — and watched as the producer pored over the pages. The night before, Foote jolted awake at 1:30 a.m., having solved the problematic ending that had plagued him the last three months. . . .
“At 90, you’re reminded over and over that it’s not for long. But I’ve made my peace with that. I don’t know what dying would be like, and I don’t waste any time thinking about it. Writing is the thing that props me up. I worked all night last night on the screenplay. I’ve never been to Durham but once. I looked around there and saw these tobacco warehouses, enormous and abandoned. It was like a ghost town to me. And whatever starts a play, or an idea of a play, began.”
Hmmm. So, Thom Mount's homecoming will be about radioactive waste stored in the Bull City? Now that's the way to show off civic pride -- make yer pride glow, glow brightly! And from an admittedly very accomplished screenwriter whose only experience in Durham was such as to make him think it was a ghost town?
Assuming this production ever gets off the ground, Mr. Schwade may want to keep his typewriter at the ready.