Thursday, March 1, 2012

Movies: The Natural at 25

 
Hobbs Takes a Hack (Sony Home Entertainment)

Barry Levinson's take on Bernard Malamud's The Natural turned 28 this year, and although the movie has aged well, the Buffalo locales -deftly doubling as both Chicago and New York- in which it was set teeter near extinction.

Roy Hobbs's fictional New York Knights played at Buffalo's real-life War Memorial Stadium in the film. A Depression-era WPA project built in 1937, the stadium played host to a veritable wild west of teams during its half-century of existence including the Buffalo Indians, Chiefs, Bills and Bisons. Several years after the movie's filming its regular tenants moved to a more modern venue and "The Rockpile," as it was (semi) affectionately known, was demolished. A small open park with playing fields and a portion of the original facade stand in its stead.

Elsewhere in Buffalo, the most impressive stand-in was the city's All-High Stadium as Chicago's Wrigley Field. Period signs were added and a little creative license taken when a prominent smokestack that looms beyond All-High Stadium was integrated into the backdrop of a fictional Wrigleyville neighborhood. Sadly, in 2007 much of the 1930's character of the stadium was stripped away as part of a renovation.

The list goes on from there, but fortunately not all that was imagined is lost. Buffalo's colossal Central Terminal, one of only several places in the country that could hope to double as Grand Central Station, closed for business in 1979. When The Natural was filming in the fall of 1983 it was still in ample repair to be included in the shoot. It continued a sharp decline in the following decade, rapidly heading for demolition.

In 1997, the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation purchased the property for $1, assuming considerable back taxes in the process. Since that time, the CTRC has worked to arrest its further decline and gradually restore the property. Like Levinson's version of Roy Hobbs, it may require a two-out shot into the light stanchions to pull it off, but let's hope it happens.