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No No: A Dockumentary: Sundance Review

No No Sundance Film Still - H 2014

The Bottom Line

“America’s Game” of baseball gets whiffed by flamboyant, drug-addled Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis.

Venue

Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Documentary Competition)

Director

Jeff Radice

From director Jeff Radice, the documentary tells the story about troubled Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis.

PARK CITY -- No hits, no runs – that’s what the scoreboard said after Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis mowed down the San Diego Padres in June 1970. No-hitters in the Major League Baseball are rare. No-hitters when the pitcher is ripped out of his mind on LSD are unthinkable.   

Called the Muhammad Ali of baseball, Dock Ellis was a controversial, brash player whose pitching prowess was complicated by alcoholism.   

More than just a documentary focusing on one man’s life, No No: A Dockumentary is not told just between the foul lines. It rounds several story bases: It flexes as a window on the cataclysmic changes of the late 1960s and ’70s, and documents Ellis’ substance abuse.

As a rookie he gobbled “Greenies” for confidence and an edge. He quickly hurled his way into the Pirates’ starting rotation. Pitching on “Greenies” was like pitching on 50 cups of coffee, players agreed. To boot, Ellis freaked out his teammates and fans by wearing curlers in his hair on the field. Although not uncommon in the black community, hair curlers, not to mention cornrows, were incomprehensible to most of the white players and fans. Pitching legend Jim “Mudcat” Grant opined: “Dock Ellis was about a chapter ahead in the game of life.”

Much later in his career, Ellis finally admitted he pitched the no-hitter while tripping on LSD. The revelation sparked outrage from the baseball establishment, but it also made Ellis kind of a folk-hero. During the entire game, he said that he could barely make out the batters and only remembered snippets -- mainly that there were runners on base all the time. While the Padres did not manage a hit off of Ellis, he beaned two of them. Indeed, his no-hitter was not exactly a masterwork: He walked eight batters.

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Interspersing interviews with an array of baseball players (mainly Pirates teammates), ex-wives and drug counselors, filmmaker Jeff Radice has hit every corner of Ellis’ amazing story. Radice’s filmic delivery breaks sharply from just a sports-story to an intensely personal story as well as a glimpse into the social/political cataclysms of the 1960 and ‘70s.

A highlight is the great archival sports footage, including seeing Ellis’ teammate Roberto Clemente at his peak. Ellis revered Clemente and was hard hit by the legendary right fielder’s untimely death. We see that beneath the crazy persona, Ellis was fraught with self- doubt and desperately needed someone to guide him.

Ellis ruefully admitted that he would have given up the no-hitter for the feeling of pitching that game clean and sober. Later in his life, Ellis re-invented himself as an inspiring drug counselor. Finally substance free, he showed his true and best stuff, namely his caring nature. Ultimately, years of alcohol excess cost Dock Ellis his life at age 63 of liver disease.

Director: Jeff Radice

Producers: Mike Blizzard, Chris Cortez, Jeff Radice

Music: Adam Horovitz

Editor: Sam Wainwright Douglas

No rating, 100 minutes