Monday, March 24, 2008

Lost in space

The Buffalo Niagara Film Festival is going on this week around town. The festival is in its second year, and it's a nice idea -- show a variety of films on all sorts of subject, and bring in some special guests. The event is still in its infancy, but has shown some growth since last year.

One problem has been advertising; I haven't noticed any. However, there was a story in the newspaper on the festival, and I excitedly noticed that a documentary on Bill Lee, former major league pitcher, was scheduled for today. Even better -- Lee himself was said to be speaking. I immediately ordered my ticket on line for the showing.

Lee -- nicknamed "The Spaceman" -- is one of the great characters in baseball history. He's naturally funny, and came up with the Red Sox in the late 1960's -- when he was virtually adopted by the counter-culture of Boston and eventually the nation. Lee was a man who questioned authority whenever possible, putting him at odds with the baseball power structure. In other words, he and manager Don Zimmer were like watching re-runs of "All in the Family."

As a Red Sox fan, this was a must-attend, if that's a word. When I arrived for the showing 15 minutes early, I already had questions ready -- "How did you know that you and Zimmer weren't going to be best friends?" and "How did Boston's win in the 2004 World Series change your life?" Heck, I brought a camera. "Hey, Bill, can you pose for a picture with me?"

The documentary, "High and Outside," was shown as planned, and it was well done. Basically, you could simply turn on the camera and let Lee talk in order to have a funny movie, and there were plenty of funny quotes. My favorite was along the lines of "Educated people have a sense of regionalism and take pride in their area. Uneducated people don't have that, so they just follow the money ... and become Yankee fans." Some of the footage was quite good, including shots of Lee's first major league game. Interviews with Peter Gammons and Marvin Miller were particularly insightful.

Director Peter Vogt was on hand. He seemed to have a lot of friends there, based on the reception. But Lee wasn't there. Vogt said that Lee was in Vermont for a showing of the film there (Lee lives in that state), and didn't know why Lee was advertised to appear here. That disappointed me as well as the middle-aged guy in the Red Sox jersey whose wife had a copy of Lee's book, "The Wrong Stuff," in her purse for autographing purposes.

"High and Outside" is scheduled for a brief theatrical release soon, then it is on to DVD and television. As one critic put it, it's worthwhile if you know who Bill Lee is.

Still, it wasn't a fulfilling afternoon -- at least compared to what it could/should have been.

No comments: