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'Baseball Films From the Silent Era' and 'Not Just the Best of the Larry Sanders Show'

The old, weird America and the old, weird comedian

Reviewed by Shawn Badgley, Fri., March 30, 2007

DVD Watch

Reel Baseball: Baseball Films From the SIlent Era

Kino, $29.95 (April 3)

"BASEBALLIUM DEMENTIA," reads Bugs Baer's opening title card in 1920's Headin' Home. "A disease of the brain that attacks a baseball fan in his weakest spot – THE ???" Cut to hundreds of them bottlenecking a concourse, a rushing tide of straw porkpies playing hookie, shot from above. Cut to the players trotting onto the field, coming toward the camera: smooth, easy movements; laughing; lucky. Cut to a slim, grinning Babe Ruth in the dugout, awaiting his moment as an unlikely matinee idol. Cut to me fighting a losing battle to resist the literary whimsy that strains most baseball writing. To watch Kino's two discs full of fable and lore – everything from Casey to Felix the Cat, varied shorts and scattered rarities set to piano and organ – is to see how that would come to be. If you'll always have the old ball game and the old, weird America (with apologies to Greil Marcus) in your heart, you'll want to have this well-produced set in your collection. Ruth's narrative leads things off in legendary style, but it's 1909's "His Last Game," which sings the ballad of Choctaw Bill Going, as well as "The Busher" (1919) that provide the real pop. Charles Ray, Colleen Moore, and John Gilbert might as well be Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins in the latter, a moody love story that spends as much time on the dance floor as it does on the diamond.

Not Just the Best of the Larry Sanders Show

Sony, $49.95 (April 17)

DVD Watch

Speaking of old and weird, Garry Shandling has apparently lost it. Amid the generous extras on this four-disc collection of 23 episodes, his "intimate, personal, indulgent visits with my friends that are meant for only me to see" stand out as revealing studies of ego and regret, awkward unedited stretches that go from train wreck (Carol Burnett, by no fault of hers) to charming and bizarre (Tom Petty) to fascinating (Jerry Seinfeld). Throughout the eight encounters – supplemented by shorter interview setups with the likes of Janeane Garofalo, Wallace Langham, Scott Thompson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Bob Odenkirk, and Sarah Silverman – Shandling seems self-conscious in both the moment and of his legacy, not to mention sedated and sad. This is not just a Jewish comic's neurosis at work: This is a guy in serious trouble. Still, said guy is smart and funny, and his 1992-1998 masterpiece remains so. A living-room sit-down with Jeffrey Tambor and Rip Torn a decade after the trio made HBO what it is today – in the process remaking the medium – hopefully served as his intervention.

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