"Bull Durham"

On the DVD of this baseball classic, director Ron Shelton reveals why he thinks that famous "long, slow, deep, wet kisses" speech he wrote is baloney.

Published June 29, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

"Bull Durham"
Directed by Ron Shelton
Starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins
Orion Home Video/Image Entertainment; widescreen, 1:85 aspect ratio
Extras: Audio commentary by writer-director Ron Shelton

There's only one extra on the "Bull Durham" DVD, but it's a doozy: Ron Shelton's running, jumping and standing-still commentary on his directorial debut and landmark baseball film. Shelton reminds us of the risk Orion Pictures took 13 years ago to bankroll a comedy about an out-of-control pitching phenom named Nuke, played by Tim Robbins, and a canny minor-league catcher named Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner. Baseball movies were box-office anathema -- "Field of Dreams" and "Major League" came later. But "Bull Durham" acquired the indefinable buzz that emanates from Hollywood when the grown-ups who work in movies realize that one of their own has managed to bring out an engaging film for adults.

Its appeal transcended the split between baseball fans and nonfans, and even between genders. In Susan Sarandon's Annie Savoy, a woman who follows "The Church of Baseball," Shelton gave movies a gal made for a long season: smart and independent, resolute and sexy, with a touch of the harebrained poet. "Bull Durham" didn't just bring viewers closer than ever to the mystique of baseball -- the interplay of catchers, pitchers, coaches and umps that spectators can only guess at when watching from the bleachers or on TV. It captured whatever was uniquely American about the sport and its milieu: the mixture of energy and drawl, of rock 'n' roll and country, of individual and team skills. Despite its many imitators, "Bull Durham" is still one of a kind: a pastoral vision for hipsters.

And Shelton is one of a kind, too: maybe the most relaxed, expansive director-commentator ever to grace a DVD audio track. Whether discussing his preferences in baseball mascots ("I am not of the school that likes the [San Diego] Chicken") or stadiums (he abhors blue walls -- he painted the ballpark in the movie green), whether describing Costner's unfounded athletic insecurities or Sarandon's use of a smart-fitting red and white dress to win her part, Shelton is spontaneously eloquent as well as continually surprising. Before this DVD, who knew that Paula Abdul choreographed Robbins' beautifully goofy dance-floor flailings?

I just received a review copy of a July 2000 book called "I Believe," which the author, Allan Stark, says was inspired by Crash Davis' famous -- or notorious -- speech about believing in "the soul ... the small of a woman's back, the hangin' curveball, high fiber, good Scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf ... I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve, and I believe in long, slow, deep, wet kisses that last three days." Stark doesn't credit Shelton -- which is probably just swell with the writer-director, who describes the speech with some embarrassment on the DVD as an artificial crowd pleaser meant to hook big actors. Throughout, Shelton is frank about everything, including his own work. The movie is a wonderful rough-edged jewel; the commentary is a jolly yet unsentimental education.

By Michael Sragow

Michael Sragow's column about moviemakers appears every Thursday in Salon. For more columns by Sragow, visit his archive.

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