Citizen Staff Writer
My TV remote control seems to have been stuck on bowling the past few months, and I’m not talking about coverage of the PBA Tour.
I turn the set on, start channel surfing and up pop ads for “Across the Universe” or “Martian Child” or “Dan In Real Life” or “Lars & the Real Girl,” all movies that feature a scene at a bowling center.
Keep flipping and there’s an ad for the home video game console Nintendo’s Wii’s bowling game.
Flip to Showtime for reruns and new episodes of “Dexter,” to FX for “Damages,” to Fox for “The Simpsons,” to NBC for “Las Vegas,” to ABC for “Ugly Betty,” to MTV for Motion City Soundtrack’s video for “This Is For Real,” and there’s a bowling scene or bowling as part of the story line.
So, for me, a longtime AVTFOB – a very true friend of bowling (and believe me, it took a lot, lot more time than you might think to come up with an acronym that couldn’t be found on a search engine) – it made me wonder:
• Had popular culture’s punching bag suddenly – dare I say fo shizzle? – become a rage again?
• Have bowlers been admitted into The Finer Things Club?
• Has bowling become cooler than Colonial Williamsburg?
It was enough to make this AVTFOB giddy.
Well, Giddy Boy, the answer is, ah, no, no and no, according to Kevin Sandler, a University of Arizona assistant professor of media arts, who is, by the way, quite fond of “Let’s Bowl Tonight” from “Grease 2.”
“Bowling is an American pastime, so you can imagine it appearing as source material in any number of media,” Sandler said via e-mail. “It certainly is something everybody has done in life, like pool or swimming. I have not noticed it popping up with any more frequency. It certainly, to my mind, is no more hip than it was last year.”
And I was like, sigh. Put my disappointment into musical form, and it would have to be played in D Minor, “the saddest of all chords,” as Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel once philosophically noted.
I’ve learned to watch the usage of the sport in films and TV with bemused resignation – maybe resigned bemusement is a better choice of words – much as I do the depictions of journalists as swarms of piranhas or killer bees, rather than the intelligent, sensitive, sentient beings we are.
But it gets to be like rubbernecking for me. I’m so intrigued by any depiction of bowling, I’ll still watch, knowing most times there will be the mandatory, unimaginative bowling pun and that the ending will most likely be like Lucy yanking away the football again from Charlie Brown.
The bowling episode of “Ugly Betty” is a perfect example of the typically smarmy Hollywood approach to bowling. Betty (America Ferrera) makes an Internet connection and makes a date for bowling. The weak bowling pun? “What do you do in your spare time?” Betty tries to type in the response “I love bowling,” but it first comes out “I love blowing.” Ugh.
The center is nicely portrayed with the colorful racks of house balls and people having fun, although everyone around seems to have a old-style bowling shirt on. (More on this later).
There’s nothing but warm fuzzies at the center until Betty’s date sneaks out – he’s not too thrilled that she has braces and that she was drying her underarms on the hand dryer at the ball return as he’s coming out of the bathroom.
Betty’s friend/love interest Henry (Christopher Gorham), who has been watching all this unfold, approaches Betty, tells her a lie about why her date left and another that he’s at the center for league night.
He’s going to bowl next to Betty, but then the lights dim as couples bowling is going to start and the awkwardness of the situation hits them. Betty’s final line in the scene – wait for it, wait for it, – is “bowling sucks.”
Et tu, Betty? I really felt Fererra sold out the integrity of her character here.
And for “Ugly Betty” producers: Hate the player, not the game. Expect a strongly worded letter from the ASPSCB – the American Society for the Prevention of Stereotyping and Cruelty to Bowlers (OK, I made this one up, too, but you get the point).
A recent exception was an episode of NBC’s “Las Vegas.” A. J. Cooper (played by Tom Selleck), new owner of the Montecito Casino, has a surprise for employee Mike Cannon (James Lesure): Cooper has put in a pair of lanes in one of the casino’s luxury suites.
“The presidential suite with a bowling lane (they didn’t call it an alley!). Innovative,” Cannon says. “The high rollers (the mandatory bowling pun, but also, perhaps, a shout-out to the high-roller tourneys held in Las Vegas?) are going to love it.”
“The Palms rents out its basketball suite for $20 grand,” Cooper says. “And bowling is still America’s game.”
But on the whole, I just wish the folks in Hollywood would not do the time warp again and do a little more research. Check out www.bowl.com for the winners of the United States Bowling Congress’ art competition the past two years or H. Thomas Steele’s wonderful book “Bowl•O•Rama: The Visual Arts of Bowling,” for some other tips. It’s only been out since, like, 1986.
There’s more to bowling art than the kitsch and trophies that show up on the screen, although the set designer for the first-season bowling episode of “Dexter” rounded up an amazing amount of bowling knickknacks.
Costume designers need to mix things up, too. Many leagues don’t require any sort of matching shirt, so the retro-style bowling shirt isn’t necessary to show league play, let alone open bowling. But when I saw the old-style shirt worn in a publicity photo by Michael C. Hall, who stars as the title character in “Dexter,” that has “Bowl Till You BLEED” on the back, I was, like, LOL.
Dexter is a blood splatter expert for the Miami Police Department. He’s also a serial killer who kills only heinous criminals.
And I’m not sure if this was one of the reasons for the design, but anyone who has seen the torn-up thumb of PBA great Mark Roth after several months on the tour, knows how ugly that can look.
But, you know, us AVTFOBs are resilient, and we have a sense of humor. We’ve suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous cheap laughs, we get knocked down, but we get up again, you’re never going to keep us down.
And if there are still some obstacles in our way, we can always hit the reset button.
Tucson Citizen copy editor Dave Petruska has written about bowling for the Citizen, USA TODAY, Gannett News Service, Bowler’s Digest, Bowling magazine, and the Information Please Sports Almanac.
The Tucson Citizen’s Dave Petruska wonders if you are a very true friend of bowling (an AVTFOB)? Check out this list to find out.
(With apologies, sort of, to Jeff Foxworthy, whose “you might be a redneck” schtick was supposedly inspired by seeing valet parking service at a Detroit-area bowling center, which he found, for some reason, to be odd.)
• If someone tells you “you’re striking,” and you know they are not talking about your wardrobe or looks, then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• If someone yells “turkey” to you at the lanes – and you know that’s a good thing – then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• If your buddy says “roll another one, just like the other one” – and you know he’s talking about getting another strike, not another joint – then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• When you’re talking about conditioner and you mean what goes on a lane, not on your hair, then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• When you know a Dutch 200 is alternating spares and strikes throughout one game, not a list of the richest men in Holland, then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• When someone says, “Watch your arse,” and you know they’re reminding you about angle, release, speed and revolution, then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• When the final category on “Jeopardy” is famous bowling sites, the answer is Reno, Nev., and you know that the question is “Where is the National Bowling Stadium?,” not “Is This a Trick Question?”, then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• If you know that Dennis Lane, Dave Frame, Charlie Tapp and Dale Strike have competed on the PBA Tour, then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• If you know that bowling’s royalty of PBA champions consists of two Earls (Anthony and Johnson), a Duke (Norm), and a King (Johnny), then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• If you think Mark Roth, instead of crystal meth, when some says “crank,” then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• If you’ve given your bowling ball its own name, then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• If you own a pair of bowling shoes that are not red and green, then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• If you know that baby-split means leaving the “3-10″ – not leaving with your baby at 3:10 – then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• When someone talks about their arsenal, and you’re thinking Storm and Hammer instead of Smith and Wesson, then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• If someone says, “You’re a chip of the old hooker,” and you take that as a compliment about your dad, then you might be a true friend of bowling.
• If someone says “spare” and you don’t think about tire, then you might be a true friend of bowling.
• When you know release means rolling the ball, not getting out of jail, then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• If someone says “frame” in a word-association test and your answer is “beer,” then you might be a true friend of bowling.
• When you think of the 4-6-7-9-10 or the 4-6-7-8-10 splits when someone says Greek church, then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
• And if you actually made it all the way to the end of this list, then you might be a very true friend of bowling.
Petruska’s Picks top 12 bowling flicks
Tucson Citizen copy editor Dave Petruska picks the top 12 movies that include at least one bowling scene.
1) “Ordinary People”: There’s only about a minute or two, but the scenes are beautifully played, and this film won the Academy Award for best picture in 1980.
Conrad (Timothy Hutton) and Jeannine (Elizabeth McGovern) go bowling on their first date. While he’s at the scorer’s table, she steps to the line for her turn and releases the ball. It goes about 2 feet before it falls into the gutter. The camera follows the ball as it slowly ka-thunks, ka-thunks, ka-thunks its way to the pit. Cut to the next scene of them eating afterward.
“Can you break the ball?” she asks.
“You can’t break the ball; you can’t break the floor; you can’t break anything in a bowling alley,” he says. “And that’s what I like about bowling alleys.”
After a slight pause, he adds: “You can’t even break the record.”
Did you know? Adam Baldwin from NBC’s “Chuck” plays Stillman, one of Conrad’s classmates.
2) “A Streetcar Named Desire”: Powerful, award-winning drama with bowling as part of the back story for Stanley (Marlon Brando).
The first time Blanche (Vivien Leigh) sees Stanley, the husband of her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter), is at a bowling center. Stanley is busy fighting, actually, instead of bowling. You never actually see him rolling a ball.
Bowling is part of Stanley’s lifestyle. The lanes are just up the street from his seedy apartment, he’s the team captain and there are a few trophies scattered around the apartment. He’s a white, working-class guy of Polish heritage in the 1950s. Would author Tennessee Williams have made him a golfer? Ah, no.
Did you know: Leigh, Hunter and Karl Malden (Mitch) won Oscars, but Brando lost to Humphrey Bogart (“The African Queen”).
3) “Scarface”: No, not the inferior Al Pacino version from the 1980s, but the original from the 1930s starring Paul Muni as Antonio “Tony” Camonte, the hoodlum who rises to power to become a top gangster.
Author William Preston Robertson labels this film as the start of “Bowling Noir.” This film is nearly 80 years old, but future directors can learn a great lesson about pace, editing and sound from watching it, and it’s cool to see a 1930s bowling center.
Director Howard Hawks’ very inventive approach uses an X-marks-the-spot clue – sometimes very noticeably, sometimes very subtly – whenever someone is about to get killed.
The X to signify the death of rival gang leader Gafney (Boris Karloff) is signaled on a bowling score sheet.
The sequence starts with a bowling sign on the outside of a building. Tony and his gang walk in and you can hear the sounds of bowling.
Cut to Gafney with a ball in his hand, throwing his shot. The camera follows the ball down the lane to show a strike. Cut to scorekeeper marking an X in the ninth frame. Gafney has a 167 through the eighth frame.
Cut to Gafney talking to a henchman near the ball return, then another cut to show Tony and his boys moving into position.
Cut to Gafney as picks up his ball. He says to his henchman, “Just watch this.” Seconds after he releases the ball, gunshots erupt. Gafney begins to fall, but the camera instead follows the ball down the lane to the pins. One pin is left wobbling, but after another round of gunfire, the pin falls.
Did you know?: If Gafney had closed out the game with two more strikes, he would have finished with a 227.
4) Cape Fear: In the original 1962 version, paroled con Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) is stalking attorney Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) and his family. Sam had put Max behind bars and Max wants revenge.
Sam takes his wife, Peggy, (Polly Bergen), daughter Nancy (Lori Martin) and a friend out to bowl. Sam is in dress slacks and a white shirt, Polly is in a skirt and the girls are wearing shorts.
Sam doesn’t know that Max has followed the group into the center and is closely watching them. Sam had bumped into Max earlier in the day at the courthouse, but Sam felt at the time this was merely a coincidence.
At the center the action cuts back and forth between the family’s perspective, close-ups of Max and Max’s view of watching Sam, but mostly watching Peggy and Nancy. A psycho invading a night of good, clean American fun – a bit of irony from bowling’s early days when a center wasn’t a fit place for a woman.
Sam, after leaving the 7-pin in one frame, looks up and sees Max. He’s so flustered that he misses the spare.
Max gets up, walks down, says sarcastically to Sam, “Nice shot, counselor,” before leaving.
Sam calls the police chief (Martin Balsam) to express his concerns. Sam, by the way, never says bowling alley during the conversation. He always says center.
“I wasn’t really worried until he showed up at the bowling center,” Sam says.
Did you know: The judge was played by Edward Platt, who would go on to play “The Chief” on “Get Smart,” and Telly Savalas, who became famous playing TV detective “Kojak,” plays a private detective.
5) “The Big Lebowski”: Better wordsmiths than I have written reams of copy about all the imagery and influences of this film – the best is “The Big Lebowski: The Making of a Coen Brothers Film” by William Preston Robertson – but it works on a simple level as well.
It’s delightful because Jeff Bridges (also see No. 7) and John Goodman are hilarious as bowling buddies in this film, about half of which is set at a bowling center, and for the stunning cinematography of the bowling scenes.
Every league bowler has either competed with or against someone like Goodman’s character Walter Sobchak – that bowler who gets just way-too-intense about everything – and competed with someone like the way-too-relaxed Jeffrey Lebowski, “The Dude,”played by Bridges.
The cinematography during the bowling dream sequence with Bridges is a lavish, Busby Berkeley-ish musical number to the sounds of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” with the ending a twist on the famous bowling trick shot performed by Andy Varipapa, who would roll a ball through the legs of showgirls who were straddling the lane, and knock down the 7-pin.
Did you know? Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers plays Nihilist No. 2 Kieffer.
6) “Racing with the Moon:” Sean Penn (Henry) and Nicolas Cage (Nicky) play pin boys in this drama set during World War II.
Elizabeth McGovern (see No. 1) plays Penn’s love interest, Caddie, but Caddie is not seen bowling. Henry and Nicky are never seen bowling, either. They are too busy working and trying to live their lives before heading off to boot camp with the Marines.
There are three wonderful scenes around the bowling center.
In the first, Crispin Glover (George McFly in the “Back to the Future” movies) is the spoiled “Gatsby boy” who is the worst nightmare for any pin boy. He rolls the ball down the lane several times before Henry is safely sitting on his perch. Henry eventually charges down and punches the Gatsby boy in the nose.
A second shows Nicky swaying with a broom, like a crooner with a microphone stand, while singing along to “Tangerine,” while Henry is using a buffer on a lane.
The third shows the boys back at the center the night before they must catch the train to boot camp. A rift has developed between them, and this is the perfect setting for them to try and work things out.
Did you know?: Michael Madsen (“Reservoir Dogs”) plays an injured soldier in the hospital scene.
7) “The Contender”: President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges), during the vetting process for vice-presidential nominee Laine Hudson (Joan Allen), meets with her at the White House bowling lanes.
Before Hudson arrives, the president is shown in a close-up with a staffer. You think they are talking about something major, but when the camera pulls back, you find out that they are on the bowling lanes.
Director/writer Rod Lurie reveals in the director’s commentary on the DVD of this film that the bowling scene was inspired by Bridge’s character in “The Big Lebowski” and that he added the scene just before he sent the script to Bridges.
The only problem? Bridges is not a bowler. There is not one scene in “The Big Lebowski” in which Bridges is seen bowling, and his awkwardness on the lanes is apparent in “The Contender.”
Did you know?: The bowling ball used by Bridges has the presidential seal on it.
8: “Pleasantville”: A pivotal scene in this innovative film – in which modern-day twins are magically transported into the roles off the characters of a 1950s TV show that has a “Father Knows Best” feel – occurs at the bowling center.
The world outside is falling apart for the male movers-and-shakers of Pleasantville, but things appear to be the same at the bowling center.
Competitors make three straight “7-10″ splits and the mayor Big Bob (J.T. Walsh) whoops it up after making a strike. The scoreboard shows that not one bowler has an open frame; it’s all strikes and spares.
But when George Parker (William H. Macy) staggers in all wet from the rain – Rain? In Pleasantville? – some more cracks start to show.
George is in shock. When he got home from work, his wife was not there, and there was no dinner, he tells the boys.
Big Bob has one of the other bowlers reveal an iron scorch mark on the back of his shirt!
But Big Bob tries to rally his troops. “We’re safe for now. Thank goodness we’re in a bowling alley,” he says.
In a scene reminiscent of the beginning of “Patton,” when George C. Scott stands in front of a gigantic American flag, Big Bob, shot from a low angle up with the scores above his head, tries to rally his troops, to get them to hold the line.
But the forces of change can not be held back.
Did you know?: Big Bob has a perfect game going through the eighth frame.
9) “Kingpin”: This Farrelly brothers sendup is one of my all-time favorite comedies. It is, of course, overloaded with every bowling cliché you can think of, but you know that going in.
It shows the game’s hustling history, features a number of PBA Tour members, and showcases the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev.
Did you know?: Pro golfers Brad Faxon and Bill Andrade are each cast as a “bowling buddy” and pitcher Roger Clemens plays tough guy Skidmark.
10) “Greedy”: Michael J. Fox plays a struggling pro bowler Daniel McTeague in this dysfunctional family comedy. Fox worked very closely with PBA Tour officials for the bowling scenes and bowling is a major part of the story line.
Daniel’s family members are trying to stay on the good side of wealthy Uncle Joe (Kirk Douglas) and enlist Daniel’s help.
Daniel had pulled away from his family members because of their greed, but he gets caught up in the family’s machinations, losing himself for awhile because a hand injury is going to force him off of the tour and he needs $300,000 to buy into a bowling center.
Did you know?: Kirsten Dunst has a small role as one of Fox’s cousins.
11) “Road House”: A lover’s triangle in which lounge singer Lily (Ida Lupino) prefers to settle down with Pete (Cornel Wilde), a top bowler and the manager of the bowling center/lounge, instead of the owner Jefty, played by Richard Widmark. Good choice, as Jefty turns out to be a psychopath. Amazing that Widmark, who played psychopaths in his first three films (“Kiss of Death” and “The Street With No Name” are the others), didn’t forever get typecast in those roles.
Lots of bowling scenes, but my favorite is when Pete is trying to teach an uninspired Lily how to bowl.
At one point, Lily intentionally throws the ball down the wrong lane. A frustrated Pete, trying hard to keep his cool, offers another approach. “Now, will you try to throw a curve. That ought to be easy for you,” Pete quips.
Did you know: Lupino sings – well, kind of – three songs, including the first version of “Again.” The others are “One For My Baby (And One More for the Road,” and “The Right Kind.” . . . The information on the video’s cover says “it captures the essence of the 1950s.” The film was released in 1948.
12) “Uncle Buck”: John Candy on the lanes?
Helping Macaulay Calkin (before “Home Alone”) and the adorable Gaby Hoffman trying to bowl?
A bowling lothario trying to hit on Buck’s older niece? Good stuff.
Did you know: Anna Chlumsky (“My Girl,” “My Girl 2″) plays one of the schoolchildren.
Some may wonder why “Dreamer” isn’t on this list. After all, it is the only feature-length, serious film just about bowling. And, probably because of this film, there has not been another feature-length fictional movie about the sport.
It has a pretty good cast in Tim Matheson as Dreamer, the young bowling pro trying to hit the big time; Susan Blakely as his girlfriend; and Jack Warden as his crusty old manager. Sound familiar? This came out three years after “Rocky.”
But the script was so pathetic and unrealistic – Dreamer hitchhiking to tournaments, using only one ball, etc. – the film can not even fall into the so-bad-it’s-funny category.
Did you know: Bill Conti, who wrote the music for “Rocky,” does this soundtrack as well.