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Monday, February 27, 2012

Wholesome entertainment

Posted By on 02.27.12 at 04:49 PM

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Francis Ouimet
  • Library of Congress
  • Francis Ouimet
The other day I had what I briefly thought was a pretty good idea.

I happened to turn on the TV and catch the last half hour or so of The Greatest Game Ever Played, which is a Disney movie about an underdog who prevailed. Our underdog was a young, unknown American amateur golfer named Francis Ouimet, who against all odds competed in the U.S. Open for the first time in 1913, took two top British professionals, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, into a playoff, and beat them both. Vardon was a previous Open champion considered the greatest golfer of his era. Ray was the defending British Open champ and he'd win the U.S. Open a few years later.

As I watched, I wondered. Was Ouimet’s caddie actually ten years old? Yes. Did Ouimet actually defeat Vardon by a stroke, steadying his nerves and sinking the decisive putt on the 18th hole of the playoff round? No. Ouimet won by five strokes. Oh, and the girlfriend was made up. In other words, the facts were often true but improved upon where necessary, and sweetened. The Greatest Game Ever Played is heartwarming, it's inspiring, it's the kind of feel-good movie for the whole family that no one makes better than Disney.

But the competition is keen. And this led me to my idea for the next great heartwarming movie.

A sentimental billionaire posts a staggering sum of money to honor the year’s best feel-good movie. The competition is keen; we see the biggest names in cinema sweep into town—powerful cigar-chewing moguls with beautiful starlets on their arms and flunkies running ahead to open doors. And when a kid from the heartland shows up with a can of 16-millimeter film under his arm that tells a simple tale of pluck and perseverance (let's say it's inspired by the true story of his kid sister, who plays a version of herself), the moguls sneer. But then a couple of clips make their way into a screening and the crowd erupts in sobs and cheers. Now the kid must be destroyed.

But guess who wins in the end? And guess what moguls learn the important lesson that real sincerity doesn’t have to be in 3-D?

I was about to send this outline off to the big studios when I remembered something: I’d seen this picture already. Well, I’d seen a pretty good approximation of it. Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World tells the wrenching story of overwrought minstrels descending on Winnipeg in the 1930s to represent their homelands before raucous crowds and settle the question of who on earth produces the most lugubrious music. A local brewery sponsors the competition—sad people drink a lot.

Then I made a troubling discovery. A feel-good movie competition already exists.

Heartland Truly Moving Pictures holds the Heartland Film Festival every autumn in Indianapolis “for people who love inspiring movies.” There are prizes for the best independent drama, documentary, and short subject, and a Truly Moving Picture Award designation is given to commercial films “that artistically express positive values of life.”

The Greatest Game Ever Played won a Truly Moving Picture Award in 2005.

So what to do? My big idea turns out to be unoriginal. On the other hand, a truly moving picture about a truly moving picture should be a shoo-in to win a Truly Moving Picture Award.

I guess I’ll just put the idea out there. But if you ask me, this one's begging to be made.

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