BRIEF THOUGHTS ON THE RECENTLY DEPARTED
I'll start with Bergman, since he's the more "significant" of the two. We'll hear plenty about his 50+ year career over the next few days, and from what I know, he deserves it. I've probably seen somewhere between 5 and 10 of his films, which represent a mere fraction of his total work. But based on that handful, I can say two things for certain: he was an incredible artist, and I don't really want to watch his movies very badly. His near-obsession with death and the human capability to feel loss make for powerfully-realized examinations of characters' lives, but also leaves me feeling like shit when the movie's over. But I'm not here to slag on the guy, far from it.
In fact, when I saw Seventh Seal for the first time, about 10 years ago, it really affected me. The way Bergman dealt with his philosophical & historical subjects in the context of a well-developed narrative, complete with humor and relationships and family, is fascinating and impressive. And some of the scenes are shockingly powerful, as when the villagers burn "the witch," or the final scene when the travelers confront the fate they've been struggling to evade. Real goose bump stuff, let me tell you.
And Wild Strawberries, released in the same year as Seventh Seal, is equally notable. It essentially deals with the same themes -- death & loss -- but presents them in a different manner. It's a hard film to describe, but if you've seen it, you know that certain scenes really stick in your mind. The final scene does it for me, as well as some of the "flashbacks."
Tough to segue from one of the greatest artists of the 20th century to a journeyman ballplayer, but I didn't write today's script. And in his own way, Bill Robinson meant as much to me as Bergman did: not much, but enough to feel the loss. Not necessarily because he was a key supporting member of the "We Are Family" 1979 World Champion Pirates, nor because he was one of dozens of quietly effective hitters whose batting prowess was hidden by the overall suppression of offensive numbers during the sixties and much of the seventies.
Nice stuff, but I know those things mostly through the prism of after-the-fact analysis and research. Nah, what I remember is Bill Robinson standing in the first base coach's box at Shea, giving that little two-fingered hand-slap to the multitude of Met hitters who reached base during the glory years of the mid-80's. Not sure what that was ("Gimme two"?), but I never saw another first base coach do it.
And finally, Bill Robinson started one of the '86 Mets' four bench-clearing brawls that summer. As a former teammate of Rick Rhoden, he had his suspicions that the Pirate pitcher was doctoring the ball during a game. And he told him so, growling "stop cheating" as they passed each other between innings. Rhoden took exception, Robinson stood his ground, and before you knew it, Knight & Mitchell & Stawberry, and the rest of the boys found an excuse for one of their favorite summer past-time: fisticuffs.
Just as there are many, many Bergman movies that others think are significant, I'm sure there are literally scores of other more significant memories for Bill Robinson. But these are mine. These are the ones that stay in my head, and make me miss the guy who's gone, even if I haven't really thought about him in years.
Either way, farewell fellas. Thanks for what you left.