Thursday, February 10, 2011

Movie: The Last Play at Shea (2010)

It’s only February and I’m prepared to call this movie the DVD of the year. Just bear in mind who’s telling you that.

The Last Play at Shea is a history of the now-demolished Shea Stadium as both home of the New York Mets and a music venue. Which means it’s a franchise highlight reel, a beautifully animated short about urban planning, a concert film depicting the final blowout show at the stadium, a biography of that evening’s headliner Billy Joel, and an exploration of the dictum voiced by Noah Cross in Chinatown: “Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

Mets fans said it for years: Shea’s a dump, but it’s our dump. When magic happened within its confines, it lasted. The Mets may have only won two world championships, but the finales of 1969 and 1986 remain among the most dramatic in baseball history. Shea was no cathedral of the game, but it was hallowed ground. I made a special pilgrimage back home in 2008 to see the Mets there one last time. That ticket stub, autographed by Tom Seaver, is framed and on my desk.

Billy Joel was the perfect choice to sing the place down. He’s a lot like the Mets: working class, chip on the shoulder, full of unwarranted bravado, never respected by critics, outshined by brighter lights in the city proper, his flaws magnified and his genuine accomplishments ignored. Plus he’s from the neighborhood. Even at the height of his fame he wasn’t cool, but he has lasted. He hasn’t released an album of new material in almost twenty years, but he remains among the highest-grossing live acts in the country. And he still puts on a hell of a show. It’s something to hear “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” knowing that Shea’s facing a date with the wrecking ball. Joel’s finest songs, several of which we hear, have a bittersweet quality, an acknowledgement of disappointment and the impermanence of things. Feelings Mets fan are all too familiar with. But we keep stepping up to the plate and taking our cuts. We’re just doing so on the other side of the parking lot now. You may not grow misty-eyed like I did – who am I kidding? I was bawling – but you’ll enjoy the movie.