Bang the Drum Slowly is a tale that grows in the telling. Much as the New York Mammoths become more invested in each other and come together around a common, albeit heart-breaking common experience, we too are drawn in to the world of Bruce, Henry and the team. From TEGWAR to Dutch’s hot-tub visits, perhaps baseball, and the common experience of team, is best understood as a nexus of relationships - an ensemble of differences that is forced to constantly invent something new. An exercise in rhetoric.
The question I walked away with surrounds the combined experience of the dead march, as “The Streets of Laredo” or “The Cowboy’s Lament” would put it, and that which brings men together. Do we think more (or less) of a group of men who gather around a teammate/friend/acquaintance only once his days are numbered? Through what prism do we view the subtle tragedy of the smile on Bruce’s face? Do we see a man invested in his last days, fully free? Or, do we see only the young cowboy, desperately hoping to have is story told? The joy in camaraderie that he feels is evident - and saddening. That we know it cannot last; that such joy is finally felt - a pinnacle of effort in life’s strivings - creates tragedy. Yet Bruce’s smile is too an arrival; an event of co-creation. His final days, his enduring joy, could never have become without the composition of each man. Henry may defend Bruce and work to ensure the peace and strength of his last journey, but he cannot do it alone. Bruce’s last days emerge from the better angels of those around him.
If we are to look for the core of Bang the Drum Slowly, it, too is an event of arrival. The core of the film is the passage between individuals; how we can, and do, co-create the world. The whole transcends the pieces, in the film, and life.