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John Cusack still willing to “Say Anything” in (614) interview

J.R. McMillan

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If actors are fortunate, they’re remembered for one film that epitomizes the angst, anxiety, and aspirations of a generation. John Cusack has a career full of them. From cult to iconic, acclaimed to obscure, it’s perhaps impossible to overstate his influence or put him in a box.

Indelible ensemble performances in Sixteen Candles and Stand by Me, along with leading roles in The Sure Thing and Better Off Dead, earned Cusack an early reputation as a relatable and reliable talent just as the prospects for many of his teen comedy contemporaries were flaming out after puberty.

Then came Say Anything, which remains the anthem for every misfit who’s punched above his weight, and every girl who’s fallen for the one guy her friends and parents were quick to dismiss.

Cusack could have quit at the end of the credits and we’d still be talking about Lloyd Dobler and his boombox 30 years later. But instead of subpar sequels, he offered a second act we rarely see—one built on personal passion, purposeful projects, and the crisis of conscience that closely parallels the teen rite of passage that could have easily typecast him into oblivion.

“I had the luxury to work in film when it was a little less corporate. People who ran the studios were individuals. They would have a portfolio they’d take to shareholders and say, ‘Here are our tentpole films,’ ” Cusack explained. “But they had six or seven movies a year they would give to artists they liked. I got to make Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity, Spike Lee got to make Summer of Sam, and Wes Anderson got to make Rushmore. It was because of the tastes of a guy named Joe Roth who ran Fox, and ran Disney. We never had to beg for money, and we never had to protect the cuts.”

Even if not for Roth’s old school style and reluctance to treat test screenings as more than just another metric, Cusack also wrote and co-produced Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity. Wearing multiple hats in Hollywood doesn’t always mean you get your way. But at the time, Cusack’s artistic vision and authority on both films were nearly absolute.

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“I sort of bridged the gap between the 60s and 70s filmmaking culture and from about 2000 on when the film companies became a very, very, small fraction of multinational corporations,” he recalled. “All I had to do for those movies was tell Joe, ‘We’re going to shoot this in 48 days.’ I wasn’t going to go a day over schedule or waste any of his money. We didn’t have to deal with financiers or studio interference. I never felt like any film I made with Joe was compromised artistically. It was a different era.”

Cusack has an impressive history of prophetic films that seemed to predict everything from the rise of mixed martial arts to the renaissance of vinyl records. And even though politics can be polarizing, his films never shy away from them.

“But I’ve always been pretty consistent about needing to say what you feel and the need to put provocative stuff, dangerous stuff into art.”

Have his outspoken opinions closed some doors, or opened others? If so, he hasn’t noticed, and doubts any such differences or decisions run that deep. Much like his earlier characters, Cusack still isn’t worried about winning a high school popularity contest or becoming prom king.

“Hollywood financiers have become far more shallow and the ethics are so transactional, I don’t think people pay attention long enough to consider politics as much as what’s hot right now,” he opined. “But I’ve always been pretty consistent about needing to say what you feel and the need to put provocative stuff, dangerous stuff into art.”

Cusack’s characters are often an everyman at odds with the status quo, though he can still pull off the affable anti-hero—as a serial grifter, a contract killer, and a political assassin. But Cusack is also an underrated chameleon, having transformed into a surprising range of real-life characters, from Nelson Rockefeller in Cradle Will Rock and Edgar Allan Poe in The Raven to Richard Nixon in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy. Inhabiting someone else’s skin is a challenge and responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.

“You immerse yourself in a character. Obviously Edgar Allan Poe and Richard Nixon aren’t going to give you any notes. But I hope the real-life characters I’ve played represent the essence of them, the spirit of them. You don’t want to do a literal imitation, but you hope you capture some part of them that’s eternal.”

With the advent of streaming services and digital downloads, Cusack’s earlier work is connecting with new fans, often the children of those who came of age in the 80s and 90s. And though some actors may cringe at the prospect of their earlier endeavors becoming easier to find and effectively lasting forever, the timelessness of Cusack’s films, old and new, still rings true.

“There’s a great story about one of my favorite films, Sweet Smell of Success. It came out and got savage reviews. People can’t see new art when it comes out. So it sat on a shelf until someone at WGN said, ‘We have this Burt Lancaster/Tony Curtis movie. Why don’t we start playing it?” It got a cult following being screened at 10 o’clock or midnight on,” Cusack explained. “Then Barry Levinson had one of the characters in Diner quoting from the movie all the time. It finally started to get looked at again, and it’s a classic. It’s easily considered Lancaster and Curtis’ best work, but it was gone for 30 years. Now, you can’t kill a film. No matter what you do to a film, it’s going to find its audience sooner or later.”

CAPA will be presenting a live Q&A with John Cusack following a screening of High Fidelity at the Palace Theatre on February 15. Visit www.capa.com for details and ticket information.

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The Muffins vintage “base ball” team pays homage to a traditional pastime

J.R. McMillan

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When Aaron Seddon first stepped up to the plate nearly a decade ago for the Ohio Village Muffins, he was actually stepping back in time. It wasn’t the same game he’d played in his youth. The rules and uniforms were unfamiliar, and pushing 30 as a walk-on wasn’t out of the ordinary. Even the spelling was different. This was 1860 vintage “base ball.”

No that’s not a typo—and no, the whole team didn’t forget their gloves either.

“When we’re talking to spectators about the differences in the game, they’re immediately concerned that we aren’t wearing gloves. That kind of protective gear didn’t enter the game until the 1870s,” explained Seddon. “We get a lot of our recruits from people who come to matches, who are intrigued by what we’re doing. We’re a close-knit group, even o the field. We’re a team, but we’re also a family.”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

Long before the days of hot dogs and dugouts, what we now know as baseball was played in fields and empty lots from Cooperstown to Hoboken. Historians still dispute the exact origin story of the sport, but generally agree that it was the inevitable intermingling of Union and Confederate troops that transformed the game into a national pastime.

But Columbus has its own history, mixed with a little folklore. Before the war, there were exactly zero baseball teams in the capital city, but shortly after its end, there were six. Players learned the sport from fellow soldiers from New York and New Jersey who brought bats and balls with them to pass the time between battles. Even the hand signals still used today for balls, strikes, “safe” and “out” arguably owe credit to the Ohio School for the Deaf in Clintonville, put into play a decade later to help their hearing-impaired athletes compete as equals.

Which brings us back to the matter of the Muffins. When the Ohio History Connection started their vintage baseball program in 1981, there was no prototype, only a rulebook. Recruiting most of that first team from their employees, they couldn’t help having some self-deprecating fun at their future expense. In the early days of baseball, your best players were referred to as the “first nine” followed by the “second nine.” Everyone left on the bench were called the “muffins.” A “mu ” was period vernacular for an error, back before they were counted. The name was so inside baseball, it was perfect.

“The umpire’s role isn’t really to arbitrate the game. He’s there to settle disputes between the players they can’t adjudicate themselves,” Seddon noted. “And the pitcher’s role is to facilitate hitting. In modern baseball, your pitcher is your best defensive player, to prevent the ball from getting into play. The game we play is before it became professional. Everyone was an amateur back then.”

Fans will also notice a suspicious absence of balls and strikes. Newspapers from the era report some batters taking 50 or more pitches waiting for just the right one, because if a hit was caught on the first bounce, it still counted as an out.

“Probably the biggest difference between modern baseball and the game we play is—if an opponent makes a really good play—everyone cheers,” Seddon revealed. “We’re playing a competitive game, we’re obviously both out there to win the match. But there’s much more camaraderie between the teams.”

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Speaking of the other team, the Ohio History Connection has more than one vintage baseball club. Much as the rise of men’s baseball inspired impromptu games among women well before Vassar College started the first formal women’s program in 1866, the Diamonds played their first match in 1994. Despite their parallel history and popularity, many of the early women’s vintage baseball teams have since consolidated or faded away, making matches more challenging.

Like the Muffins, the Diamonds also represent the game as it was played in 1860, which for women of the era was strictly recreational. The rules were the same, but even playing in back fields among themselves, the ladies often caused quite a social stir with their attire.

“We wear period-accurate dresses made from patterns of actual garments considered either a camp dress or a work dress. Someone who first starts out may play in a long skirt and a white blouse,” explained Jackie Forquer, who has played for the Diamonds for more than two decades. “We don’t play as many games as the men, but the time commitment is also less. We play festivals and exhibitions games. Our players who come from a softball background see this as another way to share their love of the game.”

Both the Muffins and Diamonds are technically historical “interpreters” who interact with spectators much as players would have in 1860, sometimes to exacting detail. Forquer, who plays first base, is sometimes the first ambassador for vintage baseball folks may meet, either through school programs or at the beginning of a game, with Diamonds matches often preceding the Muffins. Never breaking character, she’ll politely ask the umpire to seek the approval of the audience before women roll up or remove their sleeves before beginning play. Showing so much skin used to be scandalous.

Every organization has a historian, but vintage baseball happens to have an actual one. Dr. Jim Tootle came to the original version of the game later in life than most, but has still managed to outlast many of his peers. Having retired as assistant dean of the College of the Arts and Sciences at Ohio State, his passion for preservation is as infectious as his laugh.

“I’ve gotten to play in four major league parks from coast to coast. I thought my playing days were winding down when I stumbled upon this, and I’ve probably played 600 to 700 vintage games,” Tootle recalled. “It’s been a wonderful experience to represent the Ohio History Connection on our home field at The Ohio Village, but also to travel the state and the country.”

Tootle actually has written the book on vintage baseball—two in fact, not counting a third still used by prospective vintage baseball teams across the country trying to get their start.

“It’s like Civil War reenacting in a way because we give great attention to accuracy—interpreting the rules, our uniforms, and our equipment. And yet, the moment the first pitch is thrown, it’s not a reenactment anymore. It’s a real game, and we don’t know who is going to win,” Tootle chided. “I have to laugh watching ESPN anytime there’s a barehanded catch. They go nuts and show it three or four times. I feel like saying, ‘Come out to a vintage baseball game, every catch is a barehanded catch. Gloves weren’t even invented yet.’

For a complete schedule of games, including the 2019 Ohio Cup Vintage Base Ball Festival featuring 30 teams from across the country, visit ohiohistory.org

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(614)-360: Mystifying scenes from within Otherworld

Mike Thomas

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As avid 614NOW readers already know, Otherworld is an incredible immersive art space on Columbus’ east side that allows visitors the opportunity to step outside of the bounds of normal reality.

If you still haven’t checked out Otherworld in person, we hope this sampling of some of the incredible 360 views found within will kickstart your curiosity.

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Needless to say, these images pale in comparison to the real thing. Visit Otherworld for yourself, and discover all of the wonder and mystery that awaits. Until then, view our 360 gallery below to kick-start your curiosity.

Pro-tip: hit the “expand” button on the gallery’s top-right corner for a fullscreen view of the images.

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Brand new festival to bring adventure to your summer

614now

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A brand new festival is running, jumping, and climbing into Columbus later this summer. Scioto Fest will be a four-day adventure celebrating all things Scioto Audubon September 12- 15.

This dog- and kid-friendly event will include a Yappy Hour for big kids and their pups, and outdoor moving screenings for the little kids. Live music, vendors, and giveaways are to be enjoyed by all!

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From climbing, to camping, to slacklining, Scioto Fest is sure to get your adrenaline flowing.

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