Come for the LSD, sure – but stay for a riveting lens on seismic change in baseball and American culture at large.
“I had the acid in me” is how legendary Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis described his state of mind when he pitched a no-hitter – the title’s “no no” – in a 1970 game against the Padres. Then again, by his own estimation, Ellis was high for every game he ever played in the Major League. Greenies, bennies, rivers of vodka, and LSD tabs crushed and snorted: It was all part of Ellis’ ongoing self-medication, though, as the film underlines, he was hardly the only player relying on performance-enhancing drugs. (Plus ça change ...)
Alcohol and drug abuse are necessary talking points in the documentary, directed by Austinite Jeffrey Radice, with a largely local crew (including editor Sam Wainwright Douglas and DP John Fiege, whose doc Above All Else is also screening at SXSW) – especially as Ellis’ addictions affect his first two marriages and inspire a post-MLB second act as a substance-abuse counselor. (He passed away in 2008 from liver disease.)
But the film also provides invaluable context in its detailing of institutional racism in the Sixties and Seventies (when Ellis first joined up, he and other players of color, like his first roommate, Roberto Clemente, were lodged in different hotels than their white teammates) and in its emphasis on Ellis as an advocate for equality and as a righteous shit-stirrer. When Ellis’ voice breaks, reading aloud a letter of support from another trailblazer, Jackie Robinson, you can bet the audience will be leaking tears right alongside him.
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