Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the swingin’-est hangout for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. It’s our last party of the week and we’re so glad you could stop in. I see you’ve gotten our exclusive invitation. Dress is casual tonight. Make yourself at home. Pour yourself a beverage. Enjoy the show.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
Last night I asked you who you thought was the Cubs’ second-best minor league prospect. As I wrote, I think you could make the case for any of the ten players I put up for a vote and every single one of them got at least two votes. I’m not going to say any of you were wrong. But in the end, your choice was right-handed pitcher Caleb Kilian, who got 28 percent of the vote. I guess throwing six perfect innings in the Arizona Fall League Championship Game makes an impression. In second place was outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong with 16 percent and shortstop Cristian Hernandez got 15 percent.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. Feel free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.
Today’s jazz track is one that’s only a few months old from drummer Jonathan Blake. It’s a cover of Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out,” which, if we are to be honest, was always a jazz song. No one would have thought otherwise had Jackson not earlier recorded “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” and “Sunday Papers.”
I have a mixed opinion of this version. Parts of it I really like and parts of it are a bit of a turn-off for me. But I can’t stop thinking about it, which if we’re to be honest, is the sign of a good piece of jazz. I won’t go into what I didn’t like, but what I did like is the way the performers used the Joe Jackson tune to improvise off of. It really serves as a backbone that allows them to do their own thing.
So with Jonathan Blake on drums, Immanuel Wilkins on alto sax, Joel Ross on vibes, Dezron Douglas on acoustic bass guitar and David Virelles on piano, here’s “Steppin’ Out.”
I promised to finish up what I wrote about Rome, Open City, director Roberto Rossellini’s unsparing look at World War II Rome under German occupation. The film is unquestionably one of the most influential films of all time for the way that Rossellini tossed out many of the conventions of film-making that existed in 1945. The very fact that he was able to make the movie just a few months after the liberation of Rome was a bit of a miracle. That forced him to shoot with whatever film he could purchase on the black market, shoot wherever he could find space and use whomever he could find as actors. No other film has ever been able to capture the look of a city under siege because he’s actually shooting in a city that had been occupied just a few months earlier.
I mentioned that under the fascist government of Benito Mussolini, Rossellini made several propaganda films for the Axis war effort. In a way, Rome, Open City was just as much a work of pro-Italian propaganda, only this time against the fascists and Nazis. Rossellini attacks the “master race” philosophy of Nazism at every turn. When Major Bergmann, the leader of the Rome Gestapo, insists that the Italian prisoners will break under torture, he’s reminded by a fellow officer that the German soldiers in World War I did not break under French torture. He dismisses the point by pointing out that Italians are a “slave race” that won’t be able to recreate what the Germans did. Of course, the Italians never break, much to the Major’s frustration.
And here I should make a point that should be a bit disturbing to 21st-Century audiences. Rossellini goes to great lengths to show the Germans in Rome as lacking in humanity and, despite being in charge, as inferior to the Italians in the resistance. But to do this, he portrays them as degenerates, both morally and sexually. There’s a streak of homophobia in the film as Major Bergmann is portrayed as a bit “swishy,” something that Italian audiences of the time would certainly interpret as homosexuality. He’s even more explicit in the case of Ingrid, the female Gestapo agent, who curls up on a couch with the Italian women who have been collaborating with the Nazis.
Rossellini, as part of his pro-Italian propaganda, pretty much writes the Italian fascists out of the story. There are women, such as Marina, who collaborate with the Germans, but they do it out of desperation rather than ideology. (Marina has a drug habit that only the Germans can supply, for example.) In reality, Italy was going through a pro-fascist and anti-fascist civil war at the time and there were Italians on both sides of the war. Rossellini only acknowledges Italian fascism (and maybe his own role in it) in a conversation between Don Pietro and Pina (the two main characters) when Pina doubts the existence of God because how could Christ not see the suffering of the Italian people? Don Pietro does mention that maybe Christ does see and that maybe Italy deserves all of this. But that’s as close as Rossellini comes to acknowledging the role of Italian fascism in the war.
Besides making the Italian people feel good about themselves again, Rome, Open City went a long way towards rehabilitating the image of Italians with the Allied powers. American propaganda during the war portrayed Germany, Italy and Japan as a three-headed monster to be destroyed. By portraying Italians as victims of the war, rather than as collaborators, and by focusing on the suffering of the common people as well as their resistance to Nazism, Italy was decoupled from those other two countries in the minds of many Americans.
But in the end, the message that Rossellini wants the audience to get is that Italy shall rise again. The famous final scene is a group of boys walking one of the hills of Rome with St. Peter’s Basilica in the background. Despite this film being a tragedy, the boys are the hopeful future of Italy and St. Peter’s indicates that Rome is eternal.
Rossellini made two more films about how the war impacted the common people with Paisan (1946) and Germany, Year Zero (1947). Starting with Paisan, Rossellini starts fully utilizing the techniques associated with Italian neorealism. There are no professional actors (although Rossellini does re-use Maria Michi, who played Marina in Rome, Open City) and almost everything is shot on location. While there was a script, Rossellini famously re-wrote scenes on location and sometimes in the middle of shooting. The results are a fascinating but very uneven film. Parts of Paisan are brilliant. Other parts are “meh.”
Paisan is six separate stories about the Italian campaign in World War II and the overriding theme is the relationship between Italians and Americans. While both countries are on the same side and the right side, it’s clear that Rossellini believes the two nations simply do not understand each other.
The six stories are: American troops on patrol interacting with a teenage Sicilian girl; a Black American soldier dealing with a thieving boy from Naples; a doomed romance between an American soldier and a Roman girl; an American nurse trying to find an Italian resistance leader in Florence that she knew before the war; three American chaplains staying at a monastery; and finally three OSS operatives working with Italian partisans trying to rescue some downed British pilots.
Of the six, the first and the third stories are the strongest ones. Both of them feature a rom-com-esque “meet-cute” between an American soldier and an Italian girl. But an inability to trust and communicate with each other makes both romances end poorly. Rossellini lucked out when he found Carmelo Sazio to play the Sicilian peasant girl. She was apparently a local illiterate Sicilian peasant girl that he found as he was scouting locations, but she’s terrific in the small role. Mostly she just has to play scared and confused.
The fifth story of the Italian monastery is certainly the most thought-provoking. Three American army chaplains, a Catholic, a Protestant and a Jewish rabbi, bring supplies to and seek shelter in a monastery. Initially the friars are glad to see the Americans, until they realize that only one of them is Catholic. That starts a panic. But then their (rather young) leader says that God’s grace is infinite and that they simply must convert the Protestant and the Jew to the True Faith. They inform the Catholic priest, who is flabbergasted. He admits that the monks are right as far as doctrine goes, but that the minister and the rabbi are his closest friends and that they believe that they are just as right as he is. The Catholic American takes the “there are many roads to heaven” position and the residents of the monastery simply can’t accept that. They are devastated that these two good people are heading to eternal damnation.
Finally, Germany, Year Zero attempts to tell the story of how the war affected the German people. It’s a tougher story to sympathetically portray the suffering of the German people, so Rossellini tells the tale through the eyes of a young boy whom, as everyone would admit, was blameless for the sins of his metaphorical fathers. But the issue of individual and collective guilt hangs over the entire film, especially for the young boy, Edmund.
Germany, Year Zero is a good film, but I do think it suffers from how to tell this story. That all the dialogue of the film is in German, a language that Rossellini didn’t speak, was likely a problem as well. Rossellini was also dealing with a tragedy in his own life at the time, as his son had just died from appendicitis. The kid cast as Edmund was the son of some circus performers who Rossellini spotted and thought looked like his late son. Still, the film has some very powerful moments and is worth checking out after you watch the first two.
Here’s New York Times critic A.O. Scott telling you why you should watch Rome, Open City. Warning: there are some spoilers in the film clips here.
And here’s Andrew Pulver from The Guardian telling you why you should watch Rome, Open City with fewer spoilers.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.
There were a couple of reports that came out of Japan on Wednesday about free agent outfielder Seiya Suzuki. In case you don’t know who that is, Suzuki (no relation to Ichiro) is a 27-year-old right-handed power hitter for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He’s known as a patient hitter who puts up huge walk totals, walking almost as often he strikes out. Last season for the Carp, Suzuki hit .317/.433/.636 with 38 home runs in 132 games. He’s also won Gold Gloves in right field.
Suzuki is generally considered the best player in NPB and the position player to come over from Japan since Hideki Matsui. (Shohei Ohtani doesn’t play the field.) While it’s easier to hit home runs in Japan and no one expects Suzuki to hit 38 home runs in MLB, at least one scout compared him to Dodgers outfielder AJ Pollock in his prime. Pollock was a 7 WAR player when he was 27.
The first report that came out of Japan was that Suzuki had narrowed his search to four teams: the Mariners, the Giants, the Padres and the Cubs. The second report said the Red Sox were favorites.
Honestly, I don’t know how much stock to put in these reports since teams can’t negotiate with Suzuki until the lockout ends. But if it’s true and the Cubs are one of the finalists for Suzuki, how do you feel about that? Other than being right-handed and that he doesn’t normally play center field, he sounds like a good fit for the Cubs. But there’s always that doubt about how Japanese players will adapt to the US and the American game.
So tonight we have a two-part question. The first is simply “Should the Cubs sign Seiya Suzuki?” The second one is “Who will sign Seiya Suzuki?” The Cubs are a big and well-known team in Japan, but most Japanese players prefer to sign with West Coast teams, for obvious reasons. Even if Suzuki doesn’t insist on playing on the West Coast, there are still the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays to contend with. Maybe even the Rangers.
Should the Cubs sign Seiya Suzuki?
This poll is closed
Who will sign Seiya Suzuki?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave in comments)
Thank you so much for stopping in tonight. I hope we were able to take your mind off your trouble for a spell. I hope you enjoyed your beverage. We’ll get your hat and coat. Get home safely. Stay warm. And stop in again next week for more BCB After Dark.