Most people this week will be talking about the latest big screen blockbuster to make its way to DVD. I’d like to highlight something a little different. A documentary that I would guess most haven’t even heard of. And yet it’s a fitting tribute to the careers of one of America’s top living songwriters and…a baseball field.
THE LAST PLAY AT SHEA is a tribute to both Billy Joel and Shea Stadium. The documentary is never boring and leaves you wanting more (word is we will get as I’ve heard the concert in question is being released as well). It starts with a goal, Billy Joel putting on a concert to be the final event held at Shea Stadium before it meets the wrecking ball. But it’s more than that.
Rather than a simple film concentrating on one topic or the other, the film blends the stories of both leads into one. We get the background life story of Billy Joel in more of a topographic style instead of in depth and of how the events that shaped Shea Stadium also affected his life as well. For instance the construction of Shea Stadium was what prompted his family’s move as it was being built where they once lived. The stadium hosted the New York Mets which Joel came to love. And its opening event was one that changed his life forever.
The first big event held in Shea was the live performance by the Beatles in the 1965. There is little doubt that you’ve seen the footage of the event with them being driven to the stage in center field and then hopping on the stage to thousands of screaming young girls. It was the Beatles that Joel saw on TV that made him decide that’s what he wanted to do.
But the film doesn’t only focus on Joel. It also tells the story of the New York Mets. The Mets and Shea were built to fill in the void left when the Dodgers picked up and moved to California. They were the home town team that stuck in there even when times were tough. They were the team the working man supported as opposed to the New York Yankees. They were a team beloved by fans more than most. And they came back from tough times to rise to the top of the heap once more, just as Joel has done on several occasions.
As both stories unfold we also get portions of the two night concert that Joel put on as a tribute to the stadium. He gathered guests around him feeling that with the size and spectacle that IS Shea, he wasn’t worthy of paying tribute alone. He’s wrong, but he did bring along friends like Garth Brooks, Roger Daltry, John Mellencamp, John Mayer and Tony Bennett to help. He also brought along another special friend who deserved to play the final show at Shea: Paul McCartney.
McCartney was there at the beginning and at the end, though the story of his barely making it that last night is an event in itself. And the most touching moment is seen with an employee of Shea who had been there from the start, a groundskeeper who took his job to heart. He was the man who drove the Beatles to the field in those old news clips and he is the man who drives Paul to the stage via golf cart on that last night.
The music is great. The old footage of both Joel and Shea are informative and offer some historical perspective of the stadium and of Joel in his formative years. It’s sad to think that this grand old stadium is gone in lieu of the brand new corporation owned Citi Stadium. And it’s sad to think that Joel, as he states while on stage, hasn’t released a CD of new music in 15 years. But both are up to the task of this momentous occasion.
The film is a perfect blend of both, or actually all three stories: Shea, Joel and that final concert. It would have been an event to behold.