Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”

If I was to be asked, “What is one film that meets nearly every qualification you would need to earn the title of a perfect action adventure film?,” I could think of none better than Raiders of the Lost Ark.  When it was first written by George Lucas, the origin and character concept behind Indiana Jones was paying homage to the campy adventure serials of the 30’s and 40’s. Lucas sought out Steven Spielberg to direct the film, who would go on to direct the rest of the  franchise.

The film begins as we are introduced to our protagonist: Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford). Jones is an adventuring archeologist, professor, and explorer with a vast knowledge of history and various cultures. His iconic outfit of choice includes a leather jacket, a weathered fedora, a satchel, and a bullwhip. Jones is hunting a lost Peruvian treasure and must brave the dangers of booby traps and betrayal. Upon his apparent successes at acquiring the treasure, he is met by a rival archeologist: Rene Belloq (played by Paul Freeman). Belloq believes himself to be the superior to Jones in every way- constantly one step ahead, always ready to capitalize on Jones successes. Belloq acknowledges the nature of his character when he compares himself to Jones:

You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.

After escaping, Indiana Jones returns home to America only to be met by U.S military intelligence officers. They proceed to inform him that Nazis, at Hitler’s order, have been seeking out all manner of occultist and religious artifacts and are currently attempting to find Jones’s mentor Abner Ravenwood, who possesses an Egyptian artifact that may hold the key to finding the lost Ark of the Covenant. Jones comes to the conclusion that the Nazis want the Ark in hopes of making them invincible. He agrees to seek out his to find his old friend and keep the Nazis from obtaining the Ark.

Upon learning the location of his friend, Jones learns that Abner had died and the amulet he needs is in the possession of Abner’s daughter, Marion.  Marion Ravenwood is played by Karen Allen. Jones and Marion were once romantically involved, but he ended up abandoning her, which she resents. Marion demands that Jones leave her alone.

At this point we are introduced to a sinister Nazi officer, Arnold Toht (played by Ronald Lacey). Jones springs to help Marion escape Toht, and the two decide to travel together to search for the Ark. Upon reaching Cairo, Egypt, Jones reaches out to his friend Sallah, a well known digger who has information on where the Nazis are searching for the Ark. Sallah is played by John Rhys-Davies. The rest of the film is a back and forth struggle to locate the Ark and keep the Nazis at bay, leading to fantastic action sequences and one after another heart-pounding close calls.  The film’s dynamic conclusion will leave you satisfied and awed. Harrison Ford’s performance stands out with his ability to play a no-nonsense, “man’s man” character.  Jones’s character growth in the film is subtle but noticeable. He starts out as an overconfident skeptic but, as the story progresses, he rekindles his love for Marion and gains a new found reverence for holy relics.

This film began a beloved franchise that would include three more feature films. Raiders of the Lost Ark, in my opinion, is the gold standard of how to do an adventure film right. Adventure films should have a simple but pragmatic protagonist who is thrust into an ever increasing series of puzzles and dangers. Indiana Jones relies on his background knowledge and expertise in history and archeology to overcome many pitfalls both figuratively and quite literally at times. He is quite well-versed in old fashioned fisticuffs and is not above using a gun when needed. His use of brains, brawn, and no small amount of luck make him the iconic character that he is.

Raiders of the Lost Ark went on to be nominated for eight Academy Awards, including best picture. Its innovative practical effects as well as its set design and sound are superb. The film’s score is by John Williams and is unforgettable. Along with Star Wars, this franchise was always one of my favorites growing up.  This movie is rated PG, but please be warned: the rating system was different at the time and it’s closer to PG-13 for modern audiences (mostly due to some violence with in the film).  Raiders of the Lost Ark is available at the Union University Library.

Brennan’s Brainstorms: Cirque du Soleil

circus

Over winter break, I had the privilege of taking a long eleven-day vacation with my immediate family. We journeyed west (further west than I had ever been) to Los Angeles. We spent several days there, before spending one day in San Diego (to see the zoo) and the last few days of the trip in Las Vegas. I was blessed to be able to see much that those three cities had to offer.

 

One of the highlights of the trip was certainly attending Cirque du Soleil at the MGM in Las Vegas. Specifically, I went to see their show Ká. I can say without a doubt that Ká is the greatest show I have ever seen.

 

Ká is one of the first performances by Cirque du Soleil that features one continuous storyline. The story centers around two siblings, a prince and a princess, who are split from each other when a rival kingdom invades their own. The performance depicts their journey to reunite, while also showing their conflict and close escapes with the rival kingdom. Landscapes vary from dangerous jungles, treacherous mountains, tumultuous seas, and even the dark lair of the rival kingdom. These transitions are done through amazing sets, stages (more on that later) and incredible non-verbal communication through costumes, dances, and stunts.

 

Ká opened in February of 2005 and has been seen by more than a million people over the course of its tenure. Though Ká is the first performance by Cirque du Soleil to have a concrete, cohesive storyline, it is not only the story that makes the performance so breathtaking. Having sat only four rows from the front of the stage, I can say it is the most technologically advanced theatrical show of all time. And that’s not just me; The Los Angeles Times said the same thing when they wrote about its debut.

 

There are actually two stages (and five smaller platforms) that are used throughout the course of the show. Having been there I can explain it like this; there is a small ring that goes around like a stage, and with what looks like a bottomless abyss behind it. Once the show begins a platform is raised up from that pit. This machine is by far the most innovative stage of all time. It can rotate 360 degrees around and can become almost completely vertical (around 100 degrees). It moves throughout the show as the athletes perform death-defying stunts. I could hardly believe my eyes as I watched the artists run up and down an ever-moving stage.

 

However, the most breathtaking feats came when the acrobats used one of the most dangerous circus constructions of all time, the wheel of death. The wheel of death is a large metal structure balanced like a beam with two open spherical cages on each end. The performers start inside these cages, though they later move outside them and on top of them. The catch is that the structure is constantly spinning and the performers must balance on it as they are turned around like a clock head. Describing such a structure is difficult, but there are plenty of YouTube videos depicting this kind of performance, including the scene straight from Ká itself. The artists ran up and down the wheel, including one performer who used a jump rope as the wheel spun underneath him. The audience could hardly react with each motion becoming more and more dangerous and equally more exciting.

 

Overall the performance took my breath away. The stunts, performed with such precision, made the audience gasp in awe with every twist and turn. Yet underneath the insane tricks rests a heartwarming tale of the reunion of two siblings and the salvation of an entire kingdom. So, if you are ever in Las Vegas and want to see a quality Cirque Du Soleil performance, Ká is certainly the one to see. There is never a dull moment and there is nothing like it in the world.

(The Union library currently has a documentary entitled, “Another Kind of Circus,” on the history of Cirque Du Soleil if you would like to learn more about their origins. You can find access to this documentary from the library page on Union’s website.)

 

*written by Brennan Kress

 

Matthew’s Valentine Movie: “The Princess Bride”

There are few films that can easily appeal to such a wide general audience in its portrayal of a fantasy, romance and comedy. One that does it flawlessly is The Princess Bride. This film would go on to be so applauded by critics and its fans (gaining a cult following) that in 2016 it was inducted into the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” The film was adapted from a novel by William Goldman that shares the same name.

The story begins with a young boy sick and in bed while his grandfather offers to read him a book in hopes that it will make him feel better.  The boy is played by a young Fred Savage, who would go on to gain notoriety in The Wonder Years. His grandfather is played by Peter Falk, who in turn was famous for his ongoing role in the series Colombo.  The young boy is apprehensive and initially dissatisfied that his grandfather has chosen to read him a love story but the book soon captivates him.

The plot of the book first revolves around a young farm girl named Buttercup played by Robin Wright. Buttercup and a local farm hand Westley (Cary Elwes) live a simple and normal life and slowly come to realize they are in love with one another. Westley seeks to marry her but first ventures out to sea, hoping to return with a fortune, and is never heard from again (as he has been presumably killed by pirates).

Years pass and Buttercup has agreed to marry Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). Humperdinck seems to be a noble and chivalrous Prince but later proves to be much more sinister. On the road, Buttercup is kidnapped by three brigands who hope to ransom her back to the kingdom. They are led by Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), a cold and calculating Sicilian mastermind. His two cohorts are Inigo Montoya, a Spanish Swordsmen played by Mandy Patinkin, and Frezzik the Giant, played by the most famous pro wrestler of the time: Andre the Giant.

The three brigands soon find themselves hunted by a masked man dressed in all black. He proves their equal in strength, skill, and cunning. After this mysterious stranger bests the three, he then proceeds to abduct Buttercup. While traveling together it is revealed that this masked marauder is actually Westley whom Buttercup had long feared dead. Upon this realization the two are at once overjoyed that their love for one another has maintained through the years apart.

Unfortunately, Prince Humperdinck and his men catch up and Buttercup pleads for Westley’s life. Humperdinck agrees only if she will marry him, but secretly he has his second-in-command take Westley to be killed. Westley is then subjected to unspeakable torture and is left for dead. All seems lost until Inigo and Frezzik, now repentant in their ways, find Westley’s body and successfully bring him back from near death with the help of local healer Miracle Max (Billy Crystal). The three then set off to free Buttercup from the evil Prince Humperdinck. The film features a classic ending with our two protagonists, together at last, riding off into the sunset.  As the story is finished, the young boy begs his grandfather to tell him the story again on the next day and the grandfather happily agrees.

This is a timeless film that audiences of all ages can appreciate and enjoy. Its simple and well-known themes of adventure, fantasy, and true love are a hallmark of any fairy tale, and The Princesses Bride stands at the top of the list in my book.

This film is available at Union University Library and is rated PG. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do!

 

 

*written by Matthew Beyer

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The Last Samurai”

When it comes to historical dramas and period pieces, The Last Samurai bridges the gap between the two genres. This film, which was released in 2003, seeks to tell the story of Japan’s aggressive leap forward from a traditional, non-industrial society into an advanced, organized world power. The background is set in part in the Satsuma Rebellion and also involves aspects of the Boshin War. These conflicts were the result of Japan’s attempt to restore the Emperor as the supreme leader of Japan and would cause the abolition of the Samurai warrior.

The Last Samurai has an amazing roster of American, British, and Japanese cast members that all do a wonderful job of bringing the story to life. Tom Cruise stars as Captain Nathan Algren, who served in the infamous 7th Calvary. At the start of this film, we find our protagonist as a depressed alcoholic who is ridden with guilt over his actions during the American Indian Wars. He is offered a job by his ruthless former commanding officer, Colonel Bagley (played by Tony Goldwyn), to travel to Japan to help train and modernize their armies along Western models.

Algren is joined by his longtime friend, Zebulon Gant (played by Billy Connolly), a gruff Scotsman who served with Algren in the Calvary. Next we are introduced to Simon Graham (Timothy Spall). Graham acts as an English liaison for the Japanese government. Graham is fascinated by the unique and traditional way of life of the Samurai in Japan.  While engaging the rebellious Samurai in battle, Nathan Algren is defeated and taken prisoner by Lord Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe). Katsumoto is intrigued by this strange foreigner and hopes to learn more about his enemy. Katsumoto was once the emperor Meiji’s teacher and mentor; however, he believes the emperor is being led astray by corrupt industrialists like that of Mr. Omura (Masato Harada) who want to modernize Japan at all costs, regardless of the damage to their cultures and heritage.

The last character who helps to change Nathan Algren’s view of Japanese society is Taka, a widow of a Samurai killed in battle against Nathan and sister of Katsumoto. Taka is played by Shin Koyamada; she portrays a devastated woman who is attempting to raise her now fatherless son. Slowly, she grows to understand that Nathan is just a warrior much like her husband was.

This film received wide acclaim both in the U.S and Japan. It takes the stories of several historical figures and combines them for a dramatic take on several wars that brought about Japan as we know it. This film romanticizes the nostalgic era of when Japan was sealed off from the rest of the world; however, this time came to an end as the allure of modernization proved too strong.

The climatic end sees Algren falling in love with the traditional society that has brought him peace and meaning once again to his life. Algren joins with Katsumoto in an attempt to make the Emperor rethink his progressive reforms and maintain the soul and identity of the Japanese people.

The Last Samurai is an excellent film full of action and drama and it is available at the  Union University Library.

* Please note it is rated R for strong violence and battle scenes.

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Sherlock Holmes”

Director Guy Ritchie is well known for his fast pace and witty British crime dramas. However, when it was announced that he was directing a film about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s trade mark character Sherlock Holmes, many people, including this writer, felt sure it would flop. Much to my surprise, the film wildly exceeded box office performances and my own biased presuppositions.

Sherlock Holmes is a classic and beloved character in the literary world, and it takes a masterful actor to live up to Holmes’ unique quirks and captivating persona. Coming right off the success of Iron Man in 2008, actor Robert Downy Jr was chosen to play the part of Sherlock Holmes. Downy would take a new approach to playing the world’s greatest detective. This incarnation of Holmes appears as a gaunt and skinny man, egocentric and conceited to a fault. Holmes comes off as a lonely genius with no one capable of understanding his own complexities; this is undoubtedly what causes Holmes to antagonize everyone around him and in particular Watson. The only thing that can calm Holmes down and focus his brilliance is the thrill of solving mysteries and investigations.

Jude Law portrays Dr. James Watson as Holmes’ faithful companion and perhaps one true friend. Watson is level headed and quick thinking but tends to react much more by the book in regards to solving crimes. The main antagonist in this film is the evil Lord Henry Blackwood played by Mark Strong. Blackwood is an infamous killer who seeks to bring London to its knees. With his apparent black magic powers and knowledge of the occult, he has locked the whole city into a helpless state of terror.

Meanwhile, Irene Adler is played by Rachel McAdams. Adler is a woman from Holmes’s past, and they hint that they may have been once romantically involved. Adler proves to be a daring character and one of the few people to have bested Holmes (by which he is most impressed).  Lastly we are introduced to Mary Morstan played by Kelly Reilly. Mary is being courted by Watson, who plans to marry her and give up the life of adventure and intrigue. This causes a considerable rift between Watson and Holmes, and Holmes slips further into melancholy as he fears a life without Watson at his side.

This is a fantastic film. It flawlessly blends between quick, well-timed comedy and fast- paced action and adventure, and all the while our iconic duo delves deeper and deeper into the villain’s devious plot. Sherlock Holmes would go on to have a sequel in 2011 and is scheduled for a third in December 2020. I find this film is always satisfying and quite a bit of fun; I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

* This film is available at the Union University Library.  Please note this film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images, and a scene of suggestive material.

 

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Denial”

This past Sunday, January 27th, was the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  I found the film Denial, which confronts the horrors of the Holocaust, particularly moving and relevant for today’s audiences.

 Denial is based on Deborah Lipstadt’s book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier.  The movie begins in 1994 with Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust professor played by Rachel Weisz, giving a lecture in an American university.  Suddenly, she is ambushed by Nazi Historian David Irving (played by Timothy Stall) who scolds her in public, accusing her of slander and libelous conduct when she identified him as a Holocaust denier in her latest book. He then proceeds to sue her and her publisher Penguin Books in libel lawsuit.

What makes this case so fascinating and perilous is that, under the United Kingdom’s laws, if someone thinks that what you wrote about them is either defamatory or damaging, the responsibility will be entirely on you to prove that your comments are true in court. In other words, if you make the claim, you’ve got to prove it! So Deborah Lipstadt must then prove in court that David Irving is a Holocaust denier. Her council and lawyers fear that David Irving is seeking to put the entire Holocaust on trial to further his ambition and fame. In Deborah’s corner, she is joined by famous solicitor Anthony Julius (portrayed by Andrew Scott) who represented the late Princess Diana in her divorce case. Her barrister is that of Richard Rampton who is famous for dealing with libel cases; he is played by Tom Wilkinson.

Throughout the course of the trial there are many ups and downs. For example, David Irving chooses to represent himself and proves to be a formidable adversary who is quick to use legal mechanisms to his advantage. While Deborah and her team travel all the way to Auschwitz Concentration Camp to find evidence to destroy Irving’s claims. Towards the end of the film it feels as if the judge’s decision could go either way and it definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat.

 

*This film is rated PG-13 for Language and it is available at the Union University Library.

 

Personal note: Denial came to my attention last year, and it became an instant favorite for me. Allow me to share a little bit of my background and studies in an attempt to explain why this film left such an impression on your humble writer. Last year I graduated with my bachelor’s degree which I built myself around History and Political Science. I’ve always loved history; I also enjoy trying to understand how and why it happened the way it did. So having some political insight is very useful to understanding history in context.  My grandfather served in WW2 and that too also sparked my curiosity and interest in Denial.

When my grandfather passed away a few years back, my family and I were cleaning out some of his drawers and discovered several items dating back to his days in the service. Of all the things I found among his belongs, two things struck me to my core. Late in the war he served as a jeep driver for high ranking officers and generals. In doing his duty he personally drove U.S military commanders to various Death Camps and witnessed the horrific aftermath that the Nazis left in their attempts at the final solution.

What I found in my grandfather’s possessions were two grainy photos showing piles of human remains stacked well over six feet in the air. It was something I will never be able to forget, and I know it left a lasting impression on my grandfather. It is truly frightening what humans are capable of doing to one another. That is why we can never forget what happened and why we should always call out the truly insidious individuals that attempt to downplay or outright deny the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The 13th Warrior”

It’s a new year and a great time to review some odd gems of cinema history. In my ongoing review of films that catch my attention and critical acclaim, I hope to shine the spotlight on films that have taken on a cult status.  Although today’s film was not financially successful nor did it achieve fame from a wider audience, it is often taken for granted among the adventure genre of films.

First a bit of background on this film: the 13th Warrior was released in 1999 and it was adapted from a book by the famous Michael Crichton entitled Eaters of the Dead.  Michael Crichton is more widely known for his novel Jurassic Park. During the mid to late 90’s Crichton’s novels were being adapted to film as fast as possible hoping for another big hit like Jurassic Park. Thus enters director John McTeiran, who’s best known for directing action hits like Predator and Die Hard. Although this film seemed like it would be a great success, it ended up coming in way over budget and flopped with audiences at the box office with estimates at a $120-million-dollar loss.

Now I hope to make the case that this film is not nearly as bad as it is made out to be. While it does have some obvious shortcomings, I still think this film shines in its narrative and set design, and the actors really try to give it their all in spite of the problems associated with the filming and production disputes. I think modern audiences can appreciate an adventure piece set in the dark ages due to a renaissance in the popularity of Norse Viking culture and current trends in video games such as the like of Skyrim.

Plot Synopsis

This film’s story begins with our main protagonist, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, played by Antonio Banderas. Ahamd ibn Fadlan is based in part of a real historical figure who would go on to write and describe his time spent as an ambassador to the Volga Vikings. In this adaptation Ahamd ibn Fadlan is forced to travel with 12 Vikings on a sacred mission of honor back to the far north of their homeland because an ancient enemy has returned and is terrorizing a Norse Kingdom. We are introduced to the leader and King of the Viking warriors: Buliwyf, played by Vladimir Kulich.  Buliwyf encompasses all the traits one would expect to find in a Viking, boasting a tall, silent, stoic appearance that can turn in an instant into ferocious fighter steeped in knowledge of Norse religion. His character is loosely based in homage to that of the mythical Beowulf.   The last character that stands out amongst the rest is that of Herger played by the Norwegian actor Dennis Storhøi. Herger’s character has the closest relationship to Ahamd and the two develop a quick friendship. Herger helps to explain the different culture the Vikings possess while being a friendlier and comedic character in stark contrast to the rest of the Vikings.

In summary, the 13th Warrior was a swing and a miss with mainstream audiences and to many it feels like an unfinished film due to some pacing issues. I wouldn’t go as far as some do and rule it out as a bad film, and I wouldn’t suggest it’s a B film either as the tone remains serious throughout and isn’t that campy. I think what’s most important is that I grew up with the film when there weren’t many choices in the genre as the Viking craze was still years off and this film has a very good period piece feel to it. So why not give this film a try- if it’s not the best, it’s at least entertaining!

This film is available at the Union University Library the Logos.

* Please note The 13th Warrior is rated R for violence throughout and some minor language.

**written by Matthew Beyer

 

 

 

Featured eBook: “Math Goes To The Movies”

math

 

Math can play an important role in many major films. From The Martian to Moneyball, the ability to use math in difficult situations can be integral (get it?) to the story. The authors of the book Math Goes To The Movies aim to watch, break down, describe, and explain every movie that even hints at mathematical concepts. The authors even dissect a single scene in 1984 that has a math equation in it. Throughout the book, the authors either explain why mathematical concepts in movies are blatantly incorrect or praise the directors for getting the equations and concept exactly correct. This eBook is a fantastic read that will help you learn more about math!

eBook link

  • by Donny Turner

 

 

 

Donny’s Deductions: The History of Professional Bowling

pex bowl

Donny Turner was awarded the Division II Mr. Bowling Award (as presented by the TSSAA) in 2016. He has been an avid bowler since his childhood, and he continues to bowl competitively when he’s not in class as a Union University math major.

When you think of bowling, you probably think of hanging out with some friends on a Friday night eating pizza and drinking Coke. It is laid back, fun, and totally relaxed. If it ever does get competitive, it is only in good fun and never terribly serious. The majority nowadays don’t even consider bowling to be a real sport. But this was not always the case. Bowling has had one of the most vibrant histories of any sport in the world!

The Golden Age:

Professional bowling, as it is known today, began in 1958. Before this, the only type of bowling that had been aired officially on television was jackpot bowling, a game where each bowler would try to bowl up to nine strikes and the winner would get $1000. The desire to start a professional bowling league that would be aired on TV was headed by Eddie Elias, a sports agent. During a 1958 American Bowling Congress tournament with 60 of the best bowlers, Elias proposed the idea of a Professional Bowling league. He convinced 33 of these bowlers to donate $50 each to start the organization. The league was incorporated.

The Professional Bowling Association (PBA) began in 1959 with 3 tournaments. Lou Campi won the first event and Dick Weber, a future Hall of Famer and acclaimed ambassador for the sport, won the other two events. The PBA tour slowly began growing; in 1960 there were 7 tournaments and then 16 in 1961.  In 1962 the league expanded greatly to 30 tournaments, a number that rivals the amount of tournaments in the modern era. Dick Weber would become the primary face of bowling in the inaugural years of the PBA as he won 10 of the first 23 events. Bowling was quickly becoming extremely popular.

Two bowling-based TV shows grew in popularity in the 1960s: Jackpot Bowling and Make That Spare, a show where bowlers would attempt to make difficult spares and earn money for each spare made. Both of these shows propelled the popularity of bowling greatly, and it was a major factor in getting the PBA to begin being aired live on ABC in 1965. Bowlers were beginning to make a ton of money. Through sponsorships from Ford Motor Company, Coca-Cola, True Value Hardware, and Firestone Tire, the PBA was able to expand the both tour and funding.

In 1963, there was over $1,000,000 (over $7,000,000 today) in prize funds. The top bowler for that year, Harry Smith, made more money than the Major League Baseball MVP and the National Football League MVP combined. Then, in 1964, Don Carter, one of the greatest bowlers of all time, became the first athlete in any sport to receive a $1 million dollar endorsement deal. This was more than 200 times what professional golfer Arnold Palmer got with his endorsements and more than 100 times what football star Joe Namath earned. Carter also made well over $100,000 a year through bowling tournaments and other endorsements with Miller, Viceroys, and Wonder Bread. Being a professional bowler really was a good life.

The popularity in professional bowling also drastically increased the amount of recreational bowling across the United States. Throughout the 1960s, 12,000 new bowling centers were constructed and 4.6 million United States Bowling Congress members existed. Bowling was cool. Everyone, from kids to parents to grandparents, bowled, and everyone loved bowling.

A Quick Aside:

One interesting facet of bowling history is its ties with gangsters and the mafia. Professional bowlers would participate in “action bowling,” a high-stakes form of gambling in which bowlers faced off for thousands of dollars. The dark bowling alleys hidden in the boroughs of New York was where this was the most popular. Often times 50 lane bowling alleys would be bustling even at 1 am. Ernie Schlegel, a future PBA Hall of Famer, dominated this scene. He would go in purposefully smelling of alcohol to hustle other bowlers. They would bet incredible amounts of money, often times more than $10,000 per game. The stakes were incredibly high. Schlegel began doing action bowling when he was just 17. He left the bowling alley that first night with $2,000 knowing he could make a living doing this for the rest of his life; however, not everything about action bowling was so positive.

This world was lawless, and bowlers took advantage of this. People would rig the bowling balls to be weighted illegally to hook more and knock down more pins. This was not unlike gamblers using loaded dice; the gangsters betting on the games were not happy when they found out. They could become violent if the game did not go their way.

There was even an instance where a bowler faked a heart attack to get out of a game. Two bowlers facing off against each other had both bet on himself to lose the match. They were both intentionally trying to throw the match. There were also big guys with guns who had also bet on the game and backed the bowlers. Now, the bowler had a dilemma: he could either step up in the tenth frame to win the game and subsequently be shot by his backer for not throwing the game, or he could intentionally miss the spare and get shot by his opponent’s backer. He did the only logical thing at that point, he faked a heart attack to get out of having to decide. Despite everything, the bowlers look back on it fondly. Limongello, a prominent bowler at that time, said it really was “Good times. I wouldn’t give those days back for nothing.”

The Decline:

Throughout the 70s and early 80s, bowling continued to be extremely successful. Bowlers were treated like rock stars. Bowlers getting 1st place at tournaments still earned hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sponsorship deals were still extremely lucrative. The PBA Senior tour for bowlers over the age of 50 formed alongside the formation of the Professional Women’s Bowlers Association (PWBA). Bowling was thriving and it did not seem to be slowing down anytime soon; except, oddly, things began to slow down and slow down fast.

Professional Bowling began to lull in the late 80s and 90s. Bowling prize funds did not increase with inflation and the number of tournaments in the year began to decline from 30 a year to less than 20 a year. Sponsorships began to dry up, and the PBA began to regress greatly. In 2000, the entirety of bowling was purchased by former Microsoft executives Chris Peters, Rob Glaser, and Mike Slade for $5 million dollars, less than the price of a minor league baseball team. Peters aimed to revamp bowling and give the industry a new image. He created a new website for the PBA (pba.com), and he aimed to stream the qualify rounds for PBA tournaments on a website (xtrafram.tv.). This web-streaming service is one of the few bright spots in a dark time. This service is still offered today and quality and viewership has only steadily increased.

Despite growing efforts, and major publicity from a 2006 sports documentary, A League of Ordinary Gentlemen (a documentary on the 2002-2003 season that followed a few of the best bowlers in the word), bowling was not growing fast, and the downward spiraling economy was not helping. The PWBA folded in 2003; however, the women were subsequently allowed to enter PBA events, and in 2005, Liz Johnson, widely regarded as the best female bowler of all time, made a PBA television show. Regardless, things were not looking up, recreational bowling had declined by 40% in 10 years, and the brand of bowling had never been worse.

Bowling had begun to take on the image of being a “lazy man’s” game. The prestige of bowling had been lost. Bowling was the brunt of many jokes. Jim Gaffigan, a popular comedian, had an entire shtick that made fun of bowling. He commented on the laziness of bowlers saying, “If you’re out of shape and you’re bowling, you’re probably a professional bowler.” He also mentioned that bowling was low on this list of things people could do. He said: “Bowling is the activity you do after you’ve done everything else.” Granted, this is a comedy routine, but there is some truth to his words. The idea of going bowling did not have the prestige of going playing golf or the physical fortitude of playing tennis. Bowling was seen as a lazy activity that anyone could do, but no one really wanted to do.

pex bowl 1

The Youth Movement:

The PBA saw its darkest time in the 2010-2012 season. There were only 12 events that year, and only 3 of the events were aired live on television. The only positive to this season was a $250,000 first place prize to the winner of the Tournament of Champions, arguably the most prestigious tournament of the year. For every other tournament, the first place prize fund was between $20,000 and $50,000. This isn’t terrible money strictly speaking, but if you were a professional bowler and not in the top 10, you could barely make a living. The 20th ranked player would barely be earning more than $20,000 per year, half of what the 20th ranked bowler made in the early 1980s. The average income for the remaining 250 best bowlers in the world was less than $10,000 per year. This is, of course, not including sponsorships and other endorsements, but gone were the days of $1 million deals and Coca-Cola endorsements. Thankfully, all hope is not lost. There has recently been a huge movement of youth bowling.

Something interesting happened in late 2008; Jason Belmonte, a professional Australian bowler, did something different. He bowled using both his hands instead of one.

*image courtesy of Jason Belmonte’s official website

This popularized a new form of bowling that had never been seen before. Many people were in favor of this new form of bowling while others were vehemently opposed, but the most important thing is that it put bowling in a spotlight again. It made bowling more interesting and it garnered attention from everyone across the world. Jason Belmonte has even been featured on Dude Perfect, a popular YouTube channel, twice, and both videos have tens of millions of views. He has been the best possible ambassador for bowling, and the youth are taking notice.

Bowling two-handed makes it easier to hook the ball, thus scoring higher games with less experience. This makes the sport more accessible and many more middle and high school bowlers are using this technique. Jason Belmonte has helped grow the sport more than just about any other professional bowler. Youth bowling has seen its first positive trend within the last 5 years for the first time in over 2 decades. This is not a coincidence, and major bowling organizations such as USBC (United States Bowling Congress) have grown as a result. USBC hosts a national youth bowling tournament every year called Junior Gold. This tournament has seen a 300% increase within the last 7 years, from ~1000 to over 3000 entrants. This has had a lasting and positive effect on Professional Bowling.

Through the youth movement, there has also been a huge influx of young bowlers (18-25) who have seen major success on the PBA tour recently. These youth bowlers have already gained the experience of fierce competition from tournaments such as Junior Gold and other grueling youth tournaments. They are capable and often more competitive than some of the veterans on tour, and they have the advantage of athleticism on their side. These bowlers have documented through different forms of social media how often they work out, and they work out a ton. This new wave of youth bowlers put a huge emphasis on staying in peak physical condition, often working out just as much as or more often than they bowl. This has given them an edge over the competition, and it has begun to chip away at the stereotype that all professional bowlers are out of shape. Bowling is on an upward trend.

Bowling still has a long way to go. Realistically, professional bowling will never be as big as football or basketball; however, bowing is growing steadily. Bowling is America’s favorite recreational activity, and youth bowlers are heavily involved and extremely passionate about the sport. That is what it will take to keep the sport of bowling alive. As long as there are people out there who genuinely care about the sport and are dedicated to its growth, bowling will never die.

 

If you enjoyed reading this blog post and want to learn more about bowling and how to get better at bowling, we have a couple great books on bowling in the Library!

Bowling Execution – A fantastic book on how to get started in the basics of bowling.

Historical Dictionary of Bowling – A book on different terms and people related to bowling. A great book if you want to learn more on the history and terminology of bowling.

*written by Donny Turner

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Unforgiven”

Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece Unforgiven is one of the few Western genre films that managed to receive an Oscar for Best Picture. What makes this even more noteworthy is the fact that Eastwood both directed and starred in his film. The success of Unforgiven  helped to establish Clint Eastwood as an A-list director. Although the film premiered in 1992, Eastwood had the complete script since the early 1980’s; he apparently wanted to wait for the right time and right cast to appear. The leading actors would eventually be Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, and Richard Harris.

The basic story of Unforgiven is as follows: in the town of Big Whisky, Wyoming, two drunken cowboys disfigure a local prostitute and are treated leniently by the town’s Sherrif. The other prostitutes of the town are outraged and decide to place a bounty on the heads of the cowboys that attacked their friend. An old, notorious outlaw is sought out by a young upstart with the promise of a share in the reward. He reluctantly agrees and garners the help of an old friend to join them as well. The three then set out to find the men responsible.

This great cast and fantastic script makes for a near perfect western. However, as I will elaborate bellow it turns common western themes around quite a bit. If you’re interested you can check it out at the Union University library. Please note this film is rated R for violence and language.

 

 

**** Minor Spoilers Ahead*****

 

 

Clint Eastwood stars as William Munny, a vicious outlaw. In his youth, Munny committed many robberies and murders, but he then reformed, married, and started a family. The film finds Munny with his wife has recently passed away and struggling with an unprosperous farm and two young children. Munny’s longtime outlaw friend, Ned Logan, played by Morgan Freeman, is enlisted to help. Ned has also reformed and settled into a quiet life free from the crimes of his past; however, the reward is too good to pass up. The young gunslinger out to make a name for himself is played by Jamiz Woolvett; he calls himself the “Schofield Kid” due to the revolver he carries. The next character we are introduced to is English Bob played by the late great Richard Harris. English Bob is a famous killer who has made a name for himself working for railroad companies to kill disgruntled Chinese workers. He is accompanied by his biographer W.W. Beauchamp played by Saul Rubinek. Mr. Beauchamp is fascinated with gunfighter tales of the past and he portrays English Bob as a chivalrous and honorable hero in his pulp accounts of the gunman’s exploits. Meanwhile, the story’s central antagonist is that of “Little Bill” Daggett, played by Gene Hackman.  Little Bill is the sheriff of Big Whisky- he sees himself as a man full of grit and power. He commands authority in the town due to his past as a lawman in the tough areas of Kansas and Texas.

The themes and characters expressed in this film are in stark contrast to the common dogma of the Western genre.  The outlaws that set about their mission of revenge on the cowboys are in fact much more emotional and live in guilt of their previous acts. Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of William Munny is very moving as he struggles with the shame of his past and the life of crime that he has returned to. Richard Harris as English Bob also breaks the myths of the Wild West. He carries himself as a noble British gentleman but is in fact a simple, back-shooting murderer as many western outlaw folk heroes tended to be. Gene Hackman’s character of Little Bill Daggett helps to steal the show as he can go from charming and charismatic in one scene to cold, cruel, and quite sadistic- not the traits you want in a lawman. This film blurs the lines of good and evil and perhaps correctly paints the Wild West as rather morally grey.