Encountering Genre History on the Field of Dreams – The Sports Film and the Deep Temporality of the Poiesis of Film-Viewing

Encountering Genre History on the Field of Dreams – The Sports Film and the Deep Temporality of the Poiesis of Film-Viewing

Danny Gronmaier

In his volume on the genre of the sports film, Bruce Babington states that the latter’s “typical mise-en-scène is the sports stadium or games playing site, the ‘field of dreams’” (2014, 4). When continuing to analyze the 1989 movie of the same name, he claims that “the trope embodied in the baseball film Field of Dreams […] of the protagonist building a field on which the ghosts of players past can play again, might appeal to the followers of any other sport [...] who would recognise the sentiment involved“ (ibid., 9/10). Even though the film “exemplif[ies] the genre’s dominant classical paradigms”, Babington nonetheless assesses it to be contradictory to “the sports film’s reputation for formulaic predictability, as interrogative and complicating elements, sometimes explicit, sometimes residing in implicit subtexts, play against the most obvious closure and interpretation“ (ibid., 77). Aside from such distinctions, which, as I would claim, at least hint to the gripping role the sports film could play with regard to a non-taxonomic concept of genre, Babington nevertheless tunes into one of the most widespread analytical findings about the movie, and baseball films in general, especially those of the Reagan Era. field of dreams, he claims, “invoke[s] nostalgia for a better past” by “employ[ing] sport as a synecdoche of larger […] metaphysical thematics”(ibid.).


This vision of longing for a purer and more innocent past—not only as an act of redemption, but as the reconstruction of white male privilege in reaction to the changes within late-capitalist post-modern America—is also what Vivian Sobchack observes with regard to so-called mainstream media as well as to sports, and here specifically baseball, and thus also to FIELD OF DREAMS. (see Sobchack 1997, 179-181)


In what follows, I want to delve deeper into the images and sounds of the FIELD OF DREAMS to propose that its “hyperbolic nostalgia”(Sobchack 1997, 179) is more reflexive than we might expect. First of all, because the film’s audiovisual poetics—by means of recreating (modulating, mixing, confronting, relating) a variety of Hollywood genre modalities—seems to aim at a genre experience that very much ponders the impurity of history, or the impossibility of purity with regard to historical experience. And second, because it thereby makes palpable how history, of which media representations are a vital part, is never innocent, never can be, as it is always the product of an address and orientation towards both specific and ever-changing senses of community—and thus, inextricably connected to constant processes of in- and exclusion.(1)

(1)  Hermann Kappelhoff makes this connection between the referencing of different genre modalities of aesthetic experience and the dynamics of political pluralism evident by employing Rorty’s notion of the sense of community “as a dynamic element of a society […], which must always configure itself anew as a community”, and as a product of “the affective agreement to commonly shared values in concrete cultural practices” (Kappelhoff 2016), as well as Arendt’s reading of Kant’s aesthetic judgement of taste as an “extra sense […] that inserts us into a community” (Arendt 1992, 70, as cited in Kappelhoff 2016).

1. Nostalgia for Pure Pasts and the Problem of Agency

What is striking about FIELD OF DREAMS is the almost complete absence of professional game, in the sense that league games are played or watched. Rather than being or becoming a player or coach, main protagonist Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is first and foremost a fan, not directly involved in athletic competition. He is, instead, a layperson commissioned to set out on an enigmatic quest: to build a ballpark for the return of (the ghost of) ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), the most famous player involved in the so-called Black Sox Scandal in 1919, in which the Chicago White Sox conspired to fix the World Series;(2) and, moreover, to search for his and his wife Annie’s (Amy Madigan) favorite writer and former African American civil rights activist Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), as well as former player Archie ‘Moonlight’ Graham (played by Burt Lancaster and, for his younger version, by Frank Whaley).

(2) In the course of the Black Sox Scandal, eight players were accused of intentionally losing, acquitted in public trial but then nonetheless permanently banned for life from professional baseball. The incident has also been the subject of another movie, which came out only one year before FIELD OF DREAMS: While Robinson’s film uses the scandal as a kind of trigger to spark its fantasy story of belated redemption, EIGHT MEN OUT (J. Sayles, 1988) presents a multi-character narrative, which results in “a lengthy trail of constant exposition, with any real sense of the characters or their dilemma sacrificed to the unfolding plot” (Jenkins 1989, 205). For a nonfiction literary reconstruction of the scandal, see also Asinof 1963.

Fig. 1a


While I will dwell on the importance of both these latter characters as well as the actors playing them later in this study, let us have a look at Costner’s protagonist: Kinsella embodies, in the best way, a ‘sideline hero’, the Everyman becoming both hero of the fairy tale—"achiev[ing] a domestic, microcosmic triumph”—and of myth—achieving “a world-historical, macrocosmic triumph”. (Campbell 2008 [1949], 30) Further, since at the end of the film Kinsella’s long-dead father, with whom he had a strained relationship, also appears—like the old players—on the completed field and plays a round of catch with him, the (allegorical) reconciliation between the (post-)war generation and the protagonists of the 1960s counterculture movement climactically intertwines with Kinsella’s/the film’s redemption of the historical affair of the 1919 conspiracy. By means of a (narrative) gesture of superimposition, private and public (sports cultural) history are connected, providing a nostalgic impetus, which clearly equates longing for the past with its reconciliation in/with the present.


Fig. 2a: Reconciliation between father and son (I)
Fig. 2a: Reconciliation between father and son (I)

Fig. 2b: Reconciliation between father and son (II)
Fig. 2b: Reconciliation between father and son (II)

In her monograph on Hollywood’s Vision of Team Sports, Deborah Tudor argues that there are at least two pasts “evoked by this field” in FIELD OF DREAMS, as “baseball becomes a gateway to innocence, transcendence and an uncomplicated social and personal past for the spectators.” (Tudor 1997, 169) While the social past would thereby address “a time of national innocence” and an idea of (the love for) ‘pure and primal baseball,’ in the sense of an unregulated, discreet and non-professional/-commercial sports, “[t]he personal past evoked by the field will transport spectators back to their childhood years, before the loss of innocence that accompanies adolescence. ‘Pure’ spectators will watch ‘pure’ baseball.” While Tudor does not go into further detail about how such (filmic) evocation of (symbolic?) ‘pure pasts’ takes place exactly, she criticizes the way it is linked to the question of race. By reproducing the film’s plot and its characters’ actions, she observes that the movie “structures the very notion of athletic aspiration, the right to dream, around racial terms.” According to her, the problem thereby is not only misrepresentation or the non-appearance of black athletes, but first and foremost how the act of dreaming is framed, and how agency—the agency to aspire and to dream—is possessed and distributed among the film’s protagonists.(11)

(3) “The film evokes the question of race relations within sports by the way the text limits the conception of the ‘dream’. The field fulfills Ray’s dream of a reunion with his dead father. Shoeless Joe, the Black Sox and other dead players dream about playing baseball again. Annie and Karen apparently do not have a dream, but the film implies that Ray’s dream is theirs by extension. The ‘dreams’ that the field obligingly fulfills only pertain to white players.” (167)

Tudor, like Andrew Charles Miller and many others, thus assigns FIELD OF DREAMS to a series of conservative sports films especially dominant in the Reagan-influenced 1980s, in which the question of race is “present as structuring absence”, which roughly translates into “a striking abundance of sports films during this moment that offer images and narratives of a virtually all-white sporting past.“ (Miller 2003, 308/309) Based on what each character says and does, who is able to dream and what they dream about, Tudor concludes that “Field of Dreams ties dreaming to mythos and provides connections between athletic ideology and personal growth, but it [presents, D.G.] a path severely circumscribed by the dreamer himself” (Tudor 1997, 165), by which she means, especially, the male white hero Ray Kinsella.


While not wanting to deny the problematic racial and also gender politics of FIELD OF DREAMS on the level of represented and narrative content, I nonetheless claim that Tudor’s analysis does not do the film justice, especially when we look at its audiovisual composition and the viewing experience this composition shapes. It is, as the following analysis will hopefully show, the film’s layering and interweaving of certain forms of staging and modalities of experience that sets up an audiovisual discourse about American community-building and its constitutive temporality of crystallized time—not only by rendering an incisive event of sports history in melodramatic fashion, but by also disclosing the historicity of genre film viewing, sports spectatorship in general, and baseball culture in particular as a reflexive experience of what I will call deep temporality. As an experience, which reveals relationality as the driving force of genre as a system of bifurcation and creative remodulation, it also confronts us with the processes of inclusion and exclusion at work when communities form, re-form, and relate to themselves by media. Hence, as much as field of dreams might provide for a stabilization and reconciliation of certain historical narratives from or in favor of hegemonic perspectives (especially with regard to race and gender), the film quite clearly also undermines the notion of ‘pure’, ‘innocent’ and linear history—if not so much by means of its plot and the agency of its characters (treated as if they might simply supersede real-life persons), than by the agency of the film and its viewers themselves.


2. The Horror of the Voice

But let us have a closer look at the first scene of the movie, which not only introduces us to its pivotal formal device—a disembodied voice through which the hero’s “call to adventure” (Campbell 2008, 42) becomes audiovisually realized in a very literal and at the same time enigmatic sense—but which also, as I claim, immediately makes clear that Ray Kinsella is not at all in control of either his dreaming or the film’s (narrative) path in any sense.



Clip 1: The Horror of the Voice. FIELD OF DREAMS (USA 1989, P.A. Robinson), Min. 4-6.

Even though the film seems to establish Kinsella as a kind of master narrative agent in its prologue—directly preceding this scene, we see a montage of different found footage material and hear Costner’s off-screen voice telling the story of Kinsella and his family—, it here uses the disjuncture of image and sound to establish an expressive movement of irruption and threat, which becomes recognizable as a genre modality of horror. It is especially on the level of the scene’s ‘dramaturgy of noises’, as well as of the camera movement and the shot lengths used, by means of which this movement evolves.


After the final, soft piano chord and even before the last image of the prologue has faded from view, a deeply growling synthesizer sound sets in. A cut leads to what seems to be a detail of a clouded, purple colored sky. Very poignantly, we hear birds chirping, and another cut presents a long shot of a landscape: a field and a little forest in the dark in the lower part of the image, the purple sky from just before above. As if slicing through the air of the rural mise-en-scène, a sharp swirling sound appears and increases the expression of weird and eerie tension. With Mark Fisher, who dismisses the (psychological) notion of the uncanny in favor of the weird and the eerie (as basically two modalities of the strange), I would argue that both of these terms seem to be useful in describing the tension created here, especially because they also match with the observations that immediately follow here. As the weird is “constituted by a presence […] of that which does not belong” (Fisher 2017, 61), it seems fitting to grasp not only this ‘unnatural’ sound, but also the disturbing presence of the camera described in the next paragraph, shattering conventions of filmic enunciation and presumptions about self and other. It also speaks to the disruption of our genre expectation/memory: horror at the beginning of a sports film? On the other hand, the eerie, as “constituted by a failure of absence or by a failure of presence” (ibid.), seems to be the appropriate term to describe the (effect of the) acousmatic voice appearing shortly after.


The next shot depicts a corn field, with a farmhouse in the background. The scene becomes visually dynamized for the first time by means of a slowly upward panning crane shot. A two-tone oboe sequence plays repeatedly, pealing out slowly into the next shot which brings us closer to the farmhouse. In an otherwise static composition, there is a micro movement to be detected close to the center of the image: the porch swing goes back and forth, we hear its typical squeaking sound. Is someone sitting on it? Before we are able to decide on that, the scene cuts to another crane shot. While a third sonic motif—a sequence of metallic ringing sounds—is introduced, the camera flies over the dark green corn field rows from almost a bird’s eye perspective, then takes a left. It then dives down into the field and—in the manner of another horror film coded expressive movement—approaches a man in a white T-shirt from behind.


Fig. 3a: Lost within the field of horror (I)
Fig. 3a: Lost within the field of horror (I)

Fig. 3b: Lost within the field of horror (II)
Fig. 3b: Lost within the field of horror (II)

Before this movement reaches the point of transforming into what we might call an ‘indirect subjective shot’, where “we are caught in a correlation between a perception-image and a camera consciousness which transforms it,” (Deleuze 2013, 83)(4) a disembodied, or acousmatic voice provides for the latter’s emphasized and enigmatic independence, thereby reinforcing the uncanny effect established so far.(5) “If you build it, he will come”, whispers the sharp and slightly reverberating male voice, making Costner’s character suddenly stop and look around in bewilderment. In the next shot, a telephoto lens shows him literally drowning in the tall corn stalks, another audiovisual motif of the horror modality—from NORTH BY NORTHWEST (A. Hitchcock, 1959) to a film like CHILDREN OF THE CORN (F. Kiersch, 1984)—, with the forlorn immersion within a possibly dangerous nature, being exposed to an ungraspable threat. After the Voice appears once again as clearly split from Kinsella’s body, now literally coded as coming from out of the field or belonging to a camera entity, the tension of the scene is dissolved by a dialogue between the confused protagonist and his wife.

(4) Deleuze refers to Pasolini here. It is important to emphasize that, for Deleuze, it is not so much the (dissolution of the) distinction between of subjective and objective intention and agency, but the oscillation and indistinguishability with regard to the image’s perceptual quality.

(5) For the concept of the acousmatic/acousmêtre, see Chion 1999, 17-29. While Chion argues rather technically, the concept is quite often used in more advanced and dynamic ways, with regard to its undermining capacity, and especially to the analysis of fantastic and horror film forms (see for example Hills 2011).

3. A Future Vision of the Past


It is again through the sonic dimension that the staging of the appearance of the Voice as an eerie and unsettling threat undergoes serious transformation shortly thereafter, when Kinsella, working in the field, hears the voice again the next day. Unlike before, where sound and image created an expressive movement of splitting and eerie irruption, the different sounds now seem to merge to form a harmonious, orchestra-like whole. This movement of merging goes along with Kinsella having some kind of a vision.


Fig. 4a: A future vision of the past (I)
Fig. 4a: A future vision of the past (I)

Fig. 4b: A future vision of the past (II)
Fig. 4b: A future vision of the past (II)

Standing in the middle of the corn field again—now, however, in the center of the image and with his head above the crops!—, he slowly turns towards the camera. A long shot taking up his point of view presents us with the landscape we know from the first scene: the vast corn field, with the farmhouse next to it. But unlike before, a baseball diamond emerges (is superimposed) on the field, clearly recognizable and emphasized by the brightness of its switched-on floodlights, the vivid green of its grass and its typical over-all shape. The montage then jumps back to a close up of the face of Kinsella, who finishes the if-clause he has now heard and repeated so often: “…he will come.” While the soundtrack signifies harmonious continuity, the shot directly following this statement comes as a visual disruption. Clearly staged as a contrast to the flashing floodlights and Costner’s sweaty and suntanned face before, we see the pale Ray Liotta in an old-fashioned baseball outfit looking over his right shoulder into the camera, in slow motion and surrounded by darkness. Unlike before, this shot is not the result of a superimposition, but a snippet of another scene shown later in the movie when Kinsella gets in contact with (the ghost of) ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson appearing on the field for the first time.


Fig. 5a: A first encounter out of time (I)
Fig. 5a: A first encounter out of time (I)

Fig. 5b: A first encounter out of time (II)
Fig. 5b: A first encounter out of time (II)

This audiovisual staging of a split—between light and dark, between Costner’s and Liotta’s face, between an earlier and a later point in narrative time, between the two parts of the decisive sentence “If you build it, he will come”, finally between ‘Shoeless’ Joe and Ray’s father John as the mysterious “he” of that sentence—that condenses as a horror modality of irruption in the very first scene of field of dreams, will pervade the whole movie, grounding its poetics. It is, as I would like to claim, less bound to the agency of one specific character (of Ray Kinsella) as a dreaming and willfully acting person, but rather to the film’s constant processing of space and time as phenomena of (dis)limitation, of setting and dissolving boundaries (of communality), both on the level of narrative content and motif, as well as on the level of the perceived audiovisual form shaping them. Thereby, the film again and again picks up different genre modalities of expression, especially with regard to the numerous scenes of men encountering each other (for the first time), of which the one described above—when Ray Kinsella starts hearing the Voice—is only the first one.


4. Between Strangeness and Intimacy – A First Encounter as Western Duel

The second one happens shortly thereafter, when Kinsella actually meets (the ghost of) ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson for the first time on the field he then actually builds—a scene in which the ‘dueling’ nature of baseball, audiovisually exploited by so many baseball movies, is rendered much in the manner of a Western, bargaining the tension between uncanny alienation on the one hand, and intimate familiarity on the other.



Clip 2: Between Strangeness and Intimacy. FIELD OF DREAMS (USA 1989, P.A. Robinson), Min. 17-19.

While Annie and Ray sort through their paperwork and discuss the financial problems the field causes them, their daughter Karin interrupts, telling Ray that “there’s a man out there in your lawn”. Kinsella’s hesitation when walking up to the window—he seems to make his daughter stay behind him—as well as the chirping crickets on the soundtrack add up to the suspenseful mood of the nocturnal scene. The image blackens for a second while tracking Kinsella, whose face then appears again, now only dimly lit by a dark blue light seemingly coming from the offscreen left, from outside of the window he is looking through. Simultaneous with this appearance, a sequence of single low tones set in—the same we heard at the beginning of the first scene, though this time clearly played on a piano and not synthetically produced. Similarly, the sharp swirling sound also returns, immediately evoking the threatening eeriness (of disembodiment) of the first scene.


Taking up Kinsella’s point of view, the following long shot shows a part of the field, seen through the window. In the distance, on the—in contrast to the initial vision—now hardly illuminated field, we see a white figure, who turns to the left, then seemingly looks in the direction of the camera, and of Kinsella. This movement of detecting and spotting is mirrored in the reverse shot of Kinsella, whom we now see in medium scale from a low angle, standing behind the window. His facial expression is not one of surprise but of a kind of solemn tension, which is also embodied by the introduction of three sustained and slightly swelling synthesizer major key chords countering the now deeply thundering low tones.


These turn out to define the rhythm of a movement of cautious approximation, evolving between an expression of intimacy and one of strangeness, between a feeling of fascinated curiosity, and at the same time of suspicion. At its beginning, this movement comes along as rather unbalanced: While Kinsella is presented as quite clearly recognizable in medium close up shots, observing the mysterious athlete on the field from within and around his house, the latter literally remains a ghost for a couple more seconds. It is not until five more shots, depicting him as either a faraway white dot or a silhouette in the dark, that the brightly illuminated face of Liotta’s character appears for the first (or rather, considering Kinsella’s vision earlier, second) time.


Fig. 6a: The appearance of the duelist as ghost (I)
Fig. 6a: The appearance of the duelist as ghost (I)

Fig. 6b: The appearance of the duelist as ghost (II)
Fig. 6b: The appearance of the duelist as ghost (II)

Fig. 6c: The appearance of the duelist as ghost (III)
Fig. 6c: The appearance of the duelist as ghost (III)

Fig. 6d: The appearance of the duelist as ghost (IV)
Fig. 6d: The appearance of the duelist as ghost (IV)

His gestures and poses are quite telling: first standing upright and with his legs apart as if confidently awaiting his counterpart or ‘opponent’, then kneeling down to check out the condition of the environment, the turf on the field. Then, as if startled by the otherwise clearly heterodiegetic sound, the duelist as ghost, ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson, gets up quickly, and again looks in what seems to be the direction of Kinsella stepping out of his house—the squeaking sound of the fly-screen door relating back to the squeaking of the porch swing in the first scene, and also evoking a common sonic element of suspense in horror as well as in Western films.


When the two protagonists are finally positioned against each other by shot reverse shot, the two men not only exchange grave looks, but also reassuring nods: while they seem to know what is coming, the audiovisual expression of the filmic images maintains the tension for a little while longer. Additionally rhythmized by deep piano sounds and the thunderous sound from before, Jackson slowly walks backwards into the depth of the field, never losing sight of Kinsella, pounding his baseball glove (a typical move of a player to break in the stiff leather), and then ending up in a slightly bent-over position typical for a defensive player awaiting the play and fielding his position.


Fig. 7: Ready for action
Fig. 7: Ready for action

It is not until now that the tension of the described movement of a cautious approach is broken up, or rather transformed into something else: anticipation, excitement, pleasurable anxiety at the start of a game, especially (and as often in FIELD OF DREAMS) due to character movement within the frame and the comic effect resulting thereof: Kinsella quickly runs to get a bag of balls and a bat, then wants to make a hit for Jackson to catch but misses.


After a couple of successful hits and catches, Jackson runs towards Kinsella and the two men introduce themselves. Especially by means of a long monologue of Jackson talking about the past, his love for the game of baseball and the impact the 1920 ban had for him back in the day, the expressive movement of a tense and rather static confrontation—also a result of a complete lack of dialogue—transforms into one of shared intimacy, with Kinsella and Jackson chatting as well as the former introducing the latter to his wife and daughter.


What is also staged here is this intimacy’s basis on or boundedness by the proverbial ‘fine line,’ as it is made very explicit audiovisually that Jackson is not able or does not want to step outside of the field, at least not by passing over the sideline facing the family’s farm. That this staged rhetoric of spatial-as-social boundary of in- and exclusion with regard to communality should not be understood as simply a device of the film’s fairy-tale diegesis or its metaphors, but as the politics of its audiovisual poetics always including the film viewer, will become clear by the end of FIELD OF DREAMS at the latest. 


Nevertheless, it already takes shape here, too, especially through a quite telling and very long shot (over ninety seconds), which depicts Jackson confessing his feelings about baseball to Kinsella. Very slowly tracking towards the two men, it is the field’s safety fence that—prominently staged—not only constitutes a mechanism of demarcation (between the camera and the actors, between the viewer and the characters, between the magic field and the diegetic everyday reality of rural Iowa), a matrix that evokes spatial enclosure, but also a visual ornament binding the protagonists together. While in Western movies such fragile familiarity and community is often (or has to be re-)established at the expense of another character’s death, here it is the sport of baseball, a game of hit and catch which brings the ‘duelists’ together and generates and strengthens the community of the film.


Fig. 8: Excluded and related
Fig. 8: Excluded and related

5. The Personal is Public: A PTA Meeting as (Comic) Courtroom Drama

The third (genre) encounter in FIELD OF DREAMS happens as part of a parent-teacher association (PTA) meeting, during which the banning of several books is discussed, especially one of (fictive) author Terence Mann. Since the Kinsellas, especially Annie, are great devotees, a fierce dispute arises between her and another mother, who suggests getting rid of literature such as Mann’s.


Especially by means of its mise-en-scène, the staging of all the other parents as an anonymous but nonetheless (selectively) very involved mass of spectators, of the teachers as a rather helpless ‘jury’, and of the argument between the two women as a harsh confrontation of extremist statements and excessive body language, the scene evolves via the pathos of the courtroom drama, which, in addition, is partly suffused with expressions of comic effect—a strategy which more or less pervades the whole movie. It is also the only one of those scenes of (confrontational) encounters featuring female protagonists, since Ray is staged as only a dreamy bystander here—which is certainly part of the scene’s (slapstick) comedy, although it might also lead to critical questions about the film’s representational gender politics, or the depoliticized condition of the Kinsella character, which Tudor hints at.



Clip 3: A PTA meeting as courtroom drama. FIELD OF DREAMS (USA 1989, P.A. Robinson), Min. 33-37.

The scene draws its power from the antagonism between a very ordered mise-en-scène and the transgression of that order through the protagonists overacting, as well as through a sledgehammer-like image composition which renders the confrontation we witness not only one between the two female characters arguing, but also one between the exposed individual and a spectatorial mass.


The scene draws its power from the antagonism between a very ordered mise-en-scène and the transgression of that order through the protagonists overacting, as well as through a sledgehammer-like image composition which renders the scene not only a dispute between the two female characters, but also a back and forth dynamic of confrontation between exposed individuals and a spectatorial mass, in which we as film viewers become necessarily involved as well.


The scene starts with a hand camera low angle close up shot of the enraged mother shouting into a microphone while waving Mann’s book, which she calls “smut and filth”. We hear supporting applause on the soundtrack, and the elevating camera reveals a large crowd positioned right and left behind her, making her the extremely foregrounded center of the image. After Annie Kinsella—with Ray sitting next to her—is visually and audibly introduced as sitting somewhere in the cheering crowd but clearly having a different opinion, the scene depicts the ‘jury’ of teachers positioned in the front against the blustering Mrs. Kessinik and the crowd.


Fig. 9a: The ordered space of prosecution (I)
Fig. 9a: The ordered space of prosecution (I)

Fig. 9b: The ordered space of prosecution (II)
Fig. 9b: The ordered space of prosecution (II)

Fig. 9c: The ordered space of prosecution (III)
Fig. 9c: The ordered space of prosecution (III)

Fig. 9d: The ordered space of prosecution (IV)
Fig. 9d: The ordered space of prosecution (IV)

Fig. 9e: The ordered space of prosecution (V)
Fig. 9e: The ordered space of prosecution (V)

What follows is the staging of some kind of circular dance, as the discussion as well as the images jump back and forth between these three entities, or positions: the one of the accusatory prosecutor, of the jury, and of the single spectator within the witnessing crowd. The latter is additionally dynamized, as different people get up from the crowd and shout aggressive one-liners. For a short amount of time then, the dynamic of jumping and the displayed exaggeratedness are stabilized again by a long shot depicting the whole scene in its strictly symmetrical order, which is enclosed by its framing within another representational space of sports activity: the school’s gymnasium, mirroring the field as a place for confrontation and potential reconciliation of communality and history. It is the contrastive movement between clearly positioned characters within a very ordered mise-en-scène, characters which selectively break up this order, and all these characters ‘flying off the handle’ through their extreme statements and excessive acting, which sets up an audiovisual image space in which private and public sphere collide, and in which they are exposed to each other. At the same time and relating thereto, it also provides for the satirical effect of this very courtroom drama-like scene.


The second part of the scene further condenses this expressive movement of confrontation of orderliness and exaggeration, as well as of individual expression and collective reaction. When Annie cannot hold her tongue any longer, stands up and finally confronts the woman already staged as her opponent, a sharp then nasty dispute develops. Although presented by means of a rather classic shot reverse shot montage, the public—the people surrounding the two brawlers—remain integrated by sound and image here: through collective moaning and laughing on the sound track, as well as through wider shot scales by which Annie and Kessinik are always shown as being surrounded by other bodies, while two interposed shots stage the crowd in a very distinctive way as a collective turning of heads (like the crowd of a tennis match), and in stark contrast to the isolated Ray, who, distracted by the question of whose pain he is supposed to ease, does not really pay attention.


Fig. 10a: The personal is communal (I)
Fig. 10a: The personal is communal (I)

Fig. 10b: The personal is communal (II)
Fig. 10b: The personal is communal (II)

Fig. 10c: The personal is communal (III)
Fig. 10c: The personal is communal (III)

Fig. 10d: The personal is communal (IV)
Fig. 10d: The personal is communal (IV)

In the last part of the scene, and by means of its protagonist Annie Kinsella, the film quite literally appropriates this staged dynamic between punctual and isolated eruption and collective observation. After Kinsella and Kessinik almost get involved in a real fight, the former wants to transform the personal anger and tries to animate the crowd by not only democratizing the dispute, but by also taking its matter to another level of historicity and nationality: “I’ve got a better idea. Let’s put it to a vote, alright?! Who’s for Eva Braun here? Who wants to burn books? Who wants to spit on the constitution of the United States of America, anybody?” Annie’s shouting and wild gesticulating is answered by almost complete silence and images of the petrified crowd. “Alright. Now, who’s for the Bill of Rights? Who thinks freedom is a pretty darn good thing?” A couple of people start to raise their hands, Annie slaps her still inattentive husband and continues: “Who thinks that we have to stand up to the kind of censorship that they had under Stalin?” More arms go up, and while the scene’s previous staging made the viewer a rather distant observer of symmetry and clear lines and positions, one now suddenly feels in the middle of a sea of arms and hands, like Annie, especially because a lot of those fill the whole depth of focus of the image.(6)

(6) The visual similarity between this shot and the depth-of-focus shots of Hitler being surrounded by a Sieg-Heiling crowd, which we know from Riefenstahl, or even more so from the newsreel footage in HITLER: A CAREER (HITLER: EINE KARRIERE, J. Fest/C. Herrendoerfer, 1977) brings of course yet another ironic twist to this scene.

Before being interrupted by Ray, who forces her to go, Annie finally puts the described movement—from the round dance of singled out furor spreading across the crowd, to a staged fight between two individuals, and then to an inclusive situation of agitation and communal vote—into enthusiastic words: “Alright, there you go America. I love you, I’m proud of you!”


Fig. 11: Let’s put it to a vote?!
Fig. 11: Let’s put it to a vote?!

6. Time-travelling in Film History


After traversing along modalities of the horror, Western and (comic) courtroom drama film, the fourth and fifth (genre) encounter we have with Kinsella occur during a journey throughout the United States, which the film just addressed as an image space of dispute, agitation and vote, where the personal becomes public by means of spectatorship. After the Voice has appeared again, telling him to “ease his pain”, Ray presumes that it is actually Terence Mann, Pulitzer prize winner, leading civil rights activist during the 60s and 70s, and big fan of baseball, who needs his help. After a sequence that shows Kinsella doing research at a university library and then sharing his findings with Annie, who, as it turns out, had the same dream as he did—of him and Mann attending a baseball game—he seeks out the author in Boston and tries to make the now grumpy recluse go to a game at Fenway Park.(7)

(7) One could certainly argue here whether this reinforces or undermines the film’s narrative gender politics Tudor criticizes. With regard to the audiovisual staging of that scene, the scene develops in the way of the couple literally ‘finding a common language’ after a long discussion, which Annie rather dominates. She also starts to talk about the dream first.

Again anchored in a comic mode—with Kinsella repeatedly shown in a VW Vanagon practicing his welcome, then trying to get in contact with the rather unfriendly and suspicious Boston city dwellers; with the funny exploitation of Mann’s persistence in trying to get rid of Kinsella, and the latter’s persistence in avoiding that outcome—, FIELD OF DREAMS starts to invoke modalities of the detective/crime film. They dominate the film’s poetics subsequently: Attending the game, both Kinsella and Mann hear the Voice saying “Go the distance” and have some kind of a vision, as the name and statistics of Archibald ‘Moonlight’ Graham, a former baseballer who played only one Major League game and never had a chance to bat (8), appear on the stadium’s video display. 

(8) While the character of author Terence Mann has no real-life precursor, Archibald Graham was a historical figure. On June 29 in 1905, he played his only Major League game as a right fielder at the conclusion of the eighth and the top of the ninth (and final) inning. For a biographical account, see Friedlander/Reising 2009.

Consequently, they travel to Chisholm, Minnesota to search for Graham, only to find out that he had been working as a doctor all these years after his short professional athletic career and died in 1972 (sixteen years before the movie’s 1988-time frame). As they dig deeper into Graham’s life and fate, the film develops further in the manner of the modality of investigation: We follow the two men searching for clues in old newspaper articles together with an editor who knew ‘Doc’ Graham, interviewing other contemporary witnesses in a dive bar, and discussing their findings in a shabby motel room.


Fig. 12a: Investigations (I)
Fig. 12a: Investigations (I)

Fig. 12b: Investigations (II)
Fig. 12b: Investigations (II)

Fig. 12c: Investigations (III)
Fig. 12c: Investigations (III)

Fig. 12d: Investigations (IV)
Fig. 12d: Investigations (IV)

The rhythmic montage and the mise-en-scène, and here especially the setting of multiple confined spaces with their large number of props (magnifier, glasses, notepad, hat, umbrella), as well as the notorious lighting—there are lamps everywhere—here are key to the perceived audiovisual expressive movement of this modality of the crime film.


This expressive movement comes to a head in the next scene, when Kinsella leaves the motel room not only to go for an evening walk, but also, as it turns out, to travel through time to meet Graham in the year 1972—in quite a film noir-like setting in and through which the film seems to merge the modalities of horror and crime (and maybe even of the Western) of the previous scenes. Embedded in an expressive movement of visibility and invisibility, of acceleration, deceleration and punctual astonishment, Kinsella—thrown into a dark and deserted street—first slowly realizes where, or rather when he is, before he then spots what turns out to be the old Graham.



Clip 4: Travelling in film noir tIme. FIELD OF DREAMS (USA 1989, P.A. Robinson), Min. 62-63.

The imagery of the scene is dominated by blue and purple colored darkness which we are familiar with already from the first encounter of Kinsella and ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson. The camera follows Kinsella walking through the streets and confronts him with three signs, which provide for the protagonist’s confusion, but also function indicatively within an audiovisual dynamic that connects Kinsella and the film viewer in slowly realizing that a time travel has been taking place: an election poster of Richard Nixon (“4 MORE YEARS – RE-ELECT the PRESIDENT”), a cinema billboard that first remains blurry in the background and is then revealed as “THE GODFATHER – ONE OF THIS YEAR’S TEN BEST”, and a car’s license plate of the year “72”. The scene is rhythmized by a sonorous roaring and a kind of heterodiegetic trill, which appears shortly after each ‘sign’ is discovered. Even though not verbalized, it is clear now that Kinsella seems to have traveled back in time diegetically when leaving that motel room. He gets up and turns around.


Fig. 13a: Signs of time (I)
Fig. 13a: Signs of time (I)

Fig. 13b: Signs of time (II)
Fig. 13b: Signs of time (II)

Fig. 13c: Signs of time (III)
Fig. 13c: Signs of time (III)

Fig. 13d: Signs of time  (IV)
Fig. 13d: Signs of time (IV)

A heavy gong initiates a quite dynamic shot reverse shot sequence, during which Kinsella spots a dark figure from behind, walking under a street light at a steamy crossroad on the other side of the street. By means of a movement of acceleration, Kinsella is shown following and trying to address the mysterious not so mysterious character: “Dr. Graham?!”. A protruding point of view shot as well as the re-appearance of that sharp swirling sound from when Kinsella first heard the Voice in the corn field at the beginning of the movie seem to connect the horror of that very first scene with this one here now. This time though, embedded in an audiovisual movement of gradually dissolving uncertainty and disbelief, Kinsella and the film viewer are not haunted by the eeriness of a fluid or gaseous perception image and/or a semi-subjective camera consciousness, but by the crystallized time of (film) history itself: 




  • the history of the world of FIELD OF DREAMS, which combines and relates its modalities of experience of horror, crime and film noir;
  • THE GODFATHER (F.F. Coppola, 1972) as one of the most popular movies of all time;
  • the 1973 horror film THE EXORCIST (W. Friedkin), whose famous shot of Father Merrin under a street lamp the film here clearly evokes;(9)
  • and the history of film noir, additionally and strongly addressed by the actor who is revealed as playing Doc Graham in the next shot—it is Burt Lancaster, who not only made his very first movie appearances in film noir in the 1940s, but also played one the most iconic roles in sports film history in JIM THORPE – ALL-AMERICAN (M. Curtiz, 1951).

(9) There can be found even more of such references in FIELD OF DREAMS, from the mentioned name of Mann’s childhood bat (“Rosebud”) to one of the players imitating the dying Wicked Witch from THE WIZARD OF OZ (V. Fleming, 1939), and to Kinsella’s daughter Karin watching HARVEY (H. Koster, 1950) the morning after Kinsella heard the Voice for the first time.

Fig. 14a: Moonlight Graham as Doc Graham as Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson as Jim Thorpe (I)
Fig. 14a: Moonlight Graham as Doc Graham as Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson as Jim Thorpe (I)

Fig. 14b: Moonlight Graham as Doc Graham as Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson as Jim Thorpe (II)
Fig. 14b: Moonlight Graham as Doc Graham as Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson as Jim Thorpe (II)

Fig. 14c: Moonlight Graham as Doc Graham as Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson as Jim Thorpe (III)
Fig. 14c: Moonlight Graham as Doc Graham as Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson as Jim Thorpe (III)

Fig. 14d: Moonlight Graham as Doc Graham as Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson as Jim Thorpe (IV)
Fig. 14d: Moonlight Graham as Doc Graham as Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson as Jim Thorpe (IV)

As another one of the many ‘encountering couples’ triggering scenes of a two-person dialogue, Kinsella and ’Moonlight’ Graham (as ‘Doc’ Graham as Burt Lancaster as Jim Thorpe) then walk together to the latter’s office, talking about the past, about that one game Graham played without ever being at-bat, and, in connection to that, about the idea of the (most) significant moment (in life), and about the wish or the chance to have such a moment (again).


7. Encountering Genre Film as Time Crystal:
The Deep Temporality of the Poiesis of Film-viewing

So as Kinsella travels back to a diegetic 1972, the last year of the diegetic Graham’s life, only to travel back with just this Graham—at least in conversation—to the year 1922, when, according to the film, the mentioned game was on, the viewer of FIELD OF DREAMS also travels in time, namely through the history of genre cinema, experiencing modalities of audiovisual expressive movement of horror, courtroom drama, crime and the Western. The film productively appropriates, relates and modulates these modalities (e.g. with the help of comedy as some kind of reflexive mode breaking up all these modalities) to create its specific audiovisual poetics, thereby not only just citing certain films or predetermined genre categories, but producing what Michael Wedel, in recourse to and extension of considerations of Paul Ricoeur, calls the media deep temporality (“mediale Tiefenzeitlichkeit”) of the poiesis of film-viewing:(10)

(10) For Ricoeur’s notion of “deep temporality”, which he puts forward in direct reference to Heidegger’s study of within-time-ness and his notion of Zeitlichkeit (and Geschichtlichkeit) at the end of Being and Time, see Ricoeur 1984, 61/62.

What enters the film’s fiction here is much more than just a quote of another film. It is the fiction of another film, with which the rules of fictionalization itself change: the metaphorical dynamics on which they are based as well as the genre associations they evoke. And last but not least, the historical traces and imprints (“Signaturen”) with which the film constructs a triangle [or rather: a net, D.G.] connecting different points in time […]. And hence, alongside this construction, installs a form of media deep temporality, which itself takes shape only through the temporal perception of all the modes of worldmaking multiplying in this way.(11)

(11) My translation. Wedel stated this in the course of a presentation at Cinepoetics Center for Advanced Films Studies at Freie Universität Berlin (28/01/2019), thereby referring to a scene in Tom Tykwer’s film DREI (GER, 2010).

And with regard to the affective community the film thereby produces: “Just like the referenced historical times are phenomenologically embedded within the time of their referencing, it is at first the perceptual consciousness of the film’s viewer through/within which the expressive movement of the filmic representation—its poetic logic—binds the depicted characters together as an involuntarily instantaneous community of feeling.”


This reception-aesthetic and community-building time travel in FIELD OF DREAMS is triggered and secured by the creation of many confined and at the same time very explicit and saturated image spaces of genre—not only with respect to their sensual quality, but also in the way they rely on and emphasize a process of recognition, also with regard to symbolic codes of temporal specification (e.g. the cinema billboard, the license plate etc.). This might also speak to the often-made statement about FIELD OF DREAMS being overtly and excessively nostalgic: Because seen in this light, the film might not be interested in producing new (in the sense of never experienced before or ‘dissident’) time-spaces of sensuality, but rather creates an assemblage of classic Hollywood genre—which simultaneously makes FIELD OF DREAMS a classic genre film itself, though, if we take the concept of a non-taxonomic genre system of creatively interpenetrating modes and modalities proposed by Kappelhoff and Grotkopp seriously. (See Kappelhoff 2018, and Grotkopp/Kappelhoff 2012)


Hence, as much as FIELD OF DREAMS might perfectly fit Frederic Jameson’s scheme of the ‘postmodern nostalgia film’, which, by recycling clichés of the past instead of providing a heightened and authentic consciousness of historical complexity, performs an “omnivorous […] historicism” and produces ‘only’ “pastiche” and a “perpetual present” in correspondence to late capitalism (Jameson 1992, 18, 16, 79), I want to suggest to assess the poetics of FIELD OF DREAMS differently. Not—and my usage of the term “assemblage” (Deleuze/Guattari 1987, 306) instead of pastiche as well as the analytical observations are instructive here—as a symptom of an “ahistorical period of history” (ibid., 296), but as a starting point of “serious historicity” (ibid.), of the production of history, as the experiential manufacturing of time and communality, in the first place.


8. A Community of Spectators of and as the Myth of America

After the old Archibald ‘Doc’ Graham has turned down Kinsella’s offer to bring him to a place where his biggest wish of batting against a star pitcher could be fulfilled, Kinsella and Mann leave together for Iowa, back to Kinsella’s farm, his family and the field—“we are coming home”. This We keeps on growing as the two men pick up a hitchhiker on the way, who states that he is travelling through the country to find a team to play baseball. He turns out to be the young—and thus even older (!)—Archibald ‘Moonlight’ Graham, coming from or sending Kinsella and Mann back to the past.


The round robin of men being connected (and finally redeemed) through baseball still does not end here though: when Kinsella, Mann and young Graham arrive back at the farm, there are even more players from the past on the field—the Black Sox, tired of only practicing, invited them to play a game. Annie’s brother, who is financially involved in the farm and cannot see the players from the past at all, not only thinks that the Kinsellas are crazy, but also urges them to sell, as the farmland has become unprofitable because of the baseball field, which is why the bank will foreclose on it soon. While this conflict is not presented in any specific classic modality of Hollywood genre film, it nonetheless leads to a scene whose audiovisual and affective movement not only variegates a common pathos scene of the team sports film—the coach’s pep talk—, but also puts the movie’s poetics of genre assemblage into political and historical perspective.


The scene, which evolves around Terrence Mann’s impassioned appeal to keep the field, is staged along a dynamic of dramatic escalation, in which the characters’ speech and movement as well as the camera position and framing, through which specific visual axes and lines of (character) sight are created, become the dominant resources of the audiovisual expressive movement. It is introduced through daughter Karin, who just before interrupted a heated discussion between Ray and his brother-in-law by stating that they do not have to sell the farm, as “people will come”, a sentence which of course mirrors what the Voice told Ray at the beginning of the film, and which is now also picked up by Mann.



Clip 5: People Will Come. FIELD OF DREAMS (USA 1989, P.A. Robinson), Min.81-84.

The scene develops between Mann, Mark, Kinsella and also the players on the field, even though they, as well as Kinsella, do not say anything. While Mann basically gives a speech, Mark is staged as an interruption to this speech, as intruding even spatially on the developing (pathos-laden) mood of the sensory space—much as he was presented diegetically as an intruder on the field shortly before. Shown in a medium close up shot and sitting across from Kinsella and Mark at the bottom of the stand, Mann repeats the sentence just spoken by Karin, emphasizing every single word: “Ray, people will come, Ray”.


After the axis of direction between Kinsella and Mann is visually established, the latter starts to lyrically describe how people will turn up at the farm, “not knowing for sure why they are doing it, […] they’ll arrive at your door, as innocent as children longing for the past”, the camera approaches him in a slight rotary tracking motion. While in that way breaking away from the strict point of view construction, the audiovisual movement is further dynamized by the onset of music on the soundtrack: gentle (synthetic) strings and a sequence of high bell tones let the audio-vision flicker suspensefully, before two deeply rumbling drum beats not only constitute a sonic counterpoint, but also combine with Mann’s passionate recitation and vivid description of how the field will have its (paying) spectators in the future.


Consistent with the previous staging, the nascent dynamic is briefly interrupted by Mark telling Kinsella to sign the papers via a shot reverse shot sequence between the two. But Kinsella immediately turns his head again as Mann’s speech continues. The camera follows the latter while he stands up and walks towards the field. The players on their positions come into sight in the image’s background, looking like they can hear Mann and listen to what he has to say. As he walks away from the stand and the camera, but continues his speech to which even the players far out in the field seem to react, the scene’s staging opens up an audiovisual space of expression, by which Mann’s words become part of a rather universal address, as is quite typical for sports films’ pep talk scenes. 


With regard to such scenes, the figure of the coach (here: Mann) does not really speak to one specific character, but to a group which forms or has to be formed due to or by this speech itself. Now, this forming of a group is thereby (and especially here) not solely defined by the depiction and connection of (former) players (on the field) and (future) spectators (in the stands), but unfolds as an expressive movement perceived by the film viewer. Hence, it audiovisually points to a sense of community, which clearly exceeds the film’s diegetic world and addresses the audience as a forming community (of film viewing) itself, and which then also migrates back again into image and sound: the moment Mann turns towards the camera, towards Kinsella and his family, as well as towards the viewer of FIELD OF DREAMS, a horn theme sets in on the soundtrack and the players start walking up to him in the background. After another quick interruption by Mark, we see Mann in a long shot from a rather high angle standing at the sideline with the field and the players gathering around him in his back (see figure 15): “People will come, Ray!”


Fig. 15: People are coming
Fig. 15: People are coming

Once again the camera switches to Mark pleading Kinsella to sign, before Mann is shown again, this time in a medium close up, starting to move himself, the players still doing the same in the background. Mark’s urging— “You sell now, or you lose everything.”— corresponds with the movement of Mann and the players walking towards Kinsella. The audiovisual dramaturgy, which resembles many encounters throughout the whole movie, is very explicit: a pivotal decision has to be made now! Especially because of the scene’s sound, this movement of pressurizing does not really have a threatening but rather an uplifting quality, though. This is also because of Mann’s speech, in which he turns from vividly describing the experience of future spectators of the field to praising the significance of baseball in or for American history. It is remarkable how these words correspond to the staged audiovisual expressive movement, and the relation of continuous flow, momentous standstill and repetition as the critical variable of the sports film in general.


Fig. 16a: Everyone becomes a spectator (I)
Fig. 16a: Everyone becomes a spectator (I)

Fig. 16b: Everyone becomes a spectator (II)
Fig. 16b: Everyone becomes a spectator (II)

Fig. 16c: Everyone becomes a spectator (III)
Fig. 16c: Everyone becomes a spectator (III)

Fig. 16d: Everyone becomes a spectator (IV)
Fig. 16d: Everyone becomes a spectator (IV)

Everyone becomes a spectator as everyone’s existence—in a very material and existential sense—seems to stand on the brink, and as everyone is confronted with the myth of baseball as the myth of the United States of America. But considering what FIELD OF DREAMS has shown us so far, which genre modalities of expression and perception have become animated and connected throughout the film’s audiovisual poetics, this spectatorship is also one of American film history, as well as one that recognizes genre as a system of reference and interpenetration of such modalities.


9. History as a Process of Exclusion and a Filmic Experience of Deep Temporality

To conclude, let me come back to Tudor’s claim about FIELD OF DREAMS evoking different pasts, and blending the personal past of an innocent spectator with a social past of national innocence at the beginning of the 20th century, in the early days of modern professional baseball. (Tudor 1997, 169) While I would agree about the constant negotiation of the dependent relationship between the realms of individuality and communality as the (team sports) film’s central concern, I strongly hesitate to frame it simply within an argument of nostalgia in the sense of a wishful longing for a specific—a better, a more innocent—past, which is recognized by means of the semantics of narrative content, character behavior and speech (the appearance of players from the past, Karin and Terence Mann talking about the good old times, the sport of baseball as nostalgic itself etc.).


As I want to claim, the film does not just evoke a desirable and better time of the past, a past which seemingly can be equated quite easily with a timespan of actual American (sports) history (the so-called real past), but rather renders history itself

  1. as an ever-new experience of what we might understand with Wedel and Ricoeur as a form of media deep temporality, which evolves by means of relating different modalities of audiovisual expression and perception, different chronotopes of genre as interpenetrating vectors and layers of time; and
  2. as a process of constant in- as well as exclusion, which these interpenetrations provoke and are themselves part of.


And this not only on a level of representation, by reproducing the (effects of the) practice of segregation in the history of modern baseball during the first half of the 20th century—Tudor rightfully notes that there is no African American player turning up on the field, nor is this omission otherwise addressed. But also, by staging this process as an experience of exactly that, an ongoing in- and exclusion, a constant negotiation of who belongs and participates, who is addressed and recognizes, and who does not. And this runs contrary to Tudor’s claim about the film presenting a kind of hegemonic and self-contained fantasy, with the white and male character of Ray Kinsella having all the agency. The film stages the experience of responding to certain genre poetics, of knowing about certain aspects of film history, but also about sports and specifically baseball history, of becoming part of, or being excluded from the production of certain genre film communities of taste, or even of/from a transtemporal “Us” of American history as the history of Hollywood genre film.


This also counts for the film’s narrative: because as much as the plot of FIELD OF DREAMS might be dominated by a movement of inclusion, of forming a (transtemporal) community of baseball enthusiasm, of sharing a certain idea of history, there is also exclusion taking place. There are at least three scenes, or rather scenic situations during the last third of the movie which illustrate this quite vividly. All of them are connected to the possibility of going back, or should we rather say: going somewhere else in time, thereby subtly tackling questions of generation, of life and death, but also of interpersonal sympathy: There is young ‘Moonlight’ Graham, who leaves the field to irreversibly transform into old ‘Doc’ Graham in order to help Kinsella’s almost suffocating daughter but then cannot go back and join the game anymore.


Fig. 17a: Transgression and irreversible transformation (I)
Fig. 17a: Transgression and irreversible transformation (I)

Fig. 17b: Transgression and irreversible transformation (II)
Fig. 17b: Transgression and irreversible transformation (II)

Fig. 17c: Transgression and irreversible transformation (III)
Fig. 17c: Transgression and irreversible transformation (III)

Fig. 17d: Transgression and irreversible transformation (IV)
Fig. 17d: Transgression and irreversible transformation (IV)

There is ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson asking Terence Mann if he wants to accompany the players going back into the corn field from where they appeared in the first place, even though it remains unclear where this kind of “metaphysical zone of some sort of afterlife“ leads to. There is the curious Kinsella who wants to go, too, but is—much to his annoyance—denied the possibility, as Jackson makes clear: “You’re not invited.”


Fig. 18a: Inclusion and exclusion (I)
Fig. 18a: Inclusion and exclusion (I)

Fig. 18b: Inclusion and exclusion (II)
Fig. 18b: Inclusion and exclusion (II)

And there is Jackson’s earlier comment about (famous and very successful baseball player) Ty Cobb, who also wanted to come and play on the field, but: “None of us could stand the son of a bitch when we were alive, so we told him to stick it”, followed by Ray Liotta’s loud and nasty laughter.


These staged moments of exclusion might be interpreted as marginal compared to a story that some would qualify as rather superficial and all too homogenous and uncontested, as “archaic, pastoral, and idyllic in tone and location” (Sobchack 1997, 179), but they nonetheless resonate with my analysis of the entire film as a viewer’s (sensual) passage through the history of American genre film. Especially as it becomes clear on this way that even though FIELD OF DREAMS invokes what we might call ‘classic’ Hollywood genres, such invocation can never aim at an idea of (the repetition of) something pure or completely unprecedented: by referring and appropriating a genre modality, by mixing it with other modalities, this modality never stays the same (again). It becomes something new by means of how it is connected and embedded, and of how it therefore changes everything that was before and will come after. Taking this viewer’s passage of FIELD OF DREAMS, the history of American genre film can thus only be understood and become graspable as one of dynamic interdependence and ramification, as a web of permanent movements of overlap and distinction, of coalescence and separation, as travelling through the times.


By means of its poetics of construction, juxtaposition and transition, which is at work on all kinds of different levels in the film, FIELD OF DREAMS to a certain extent counters the “quest for purity” (Butterworth 2010, 57) which many scholars assume the film to be about, most often with regard to baseball films in general. In “its ability to integrate a variety of periods in American history” (Gill 1999, 122), which, as I have shown, can also be understood as the ability to integrate a variety of historical modalities of experience of American genre film, FIELD OF DREAMS surely balances different values and therefore “reflects the struggle of a society trying to come to terms with the relatively extreme value tensions of the previous two decades” (ibid.) of the 1960s and 70s. 


But it does so not only by creating a completely balanced vision of America as perfect world (see ibid., 114/15), but by making palpable that this perfect world is a cultural fantasy, by all means in need of and provoking conflict, impurity and exclusion; that American cultural history is not only a question of “opposing values of individualism and community”, for which FIELD OF DREAMS “creates a place […] of constant balancing” (ibid.) via its plot and characters, but also by addressing and making the (history of the) film’s viewer experience a crucial part of this tension and the constructive force of this history in the first place—via its forms of audiovisual movement, and within a ‘genres-as-media’ (see Cavell 1982, 79) system of interpenetrating modalities of filmic expression and perception.




Bibliography


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Baker, Aaron. Contesting Identities: Sports in American Film. University of Illinois Press, 2003.

Butterworth, Michael L. (2010) Baseball and Rhetorics of Purity: The National Pastime and American Identity During the War on Terror. University of Alabama Press.

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DeLanda, Manuel (2006) “Deleuzian Social Ontology and Assemblage Theory.” Deleuze and the Social, eds. Martin Fuglsang and Bent Meier Sorensen, Edinburgh University Press, 250-266.

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Grotkopp, Matthias, and Hermann Kappelhoff (2012) Film Genre and Modality. The Incestuous Nature of Genre Exemplified by the War Film. In Praise of Cinematic Bastardy, eds. Sébastien Lefait and Philippe Ortoli, Cambridge Scholars Publishing,
29-39.

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Jameson, Fredric (1992) Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Blackwell Publishers.

Kappelhoff, Hermann (2018) Front Lines of Community. Hollywood Between War and Democracy. De Gruyter.

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Tudor, Deborah V. (1997) Hollywood’s Vision of Team Sports: Heroes, Race, and Gender. Routledge.


Filmography


CRISS CROSS (USA 1949, R. Siodmak)

FIELD OF DREAMS (USA 1989, P.A. Robinson)

HARVEY (USA 1950, H. Koster)

JIM THORPE – ALL-AMERICAN (USA 1951, M. Curtiz)

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (USA 1959, A. Hitchcock)

THE EXORCIST (USA 1973, W. Friedkin),

THE GODFATHER (USA 1972, F.F. Coppola)

THE WIZARD OF OZ (USA 1939, V. Fleming)




DOI: 10.17169/mae.0.81


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Copyright (c) 2019 Danny Gronmaier

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ISSN 2567-9309

mediaesthetics – Journal of Poetics of Audiovisual Images

Cinepoetics – Center for Advanced Film Studies