Movie Review: No-No: A Dockumentary (2014) #atozchallenge

This is my entry for “N” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “N” documentaries I’ve reviewed are New York: A Documentary FilmThe 1964 World’s FairThe Night James Brown Saved Boston and NOVA: Iceman Reborn.

TitleNo-No: A Dockumentary
Release Date: January 20, 2014
Director:  Jeff Radice
Production Company: Arts+Labor

Even if you’re a baseball fan, what you probably know about Dock Ellis is that he was a pitcher who threw a no-hitter in 1970 later claiming to be under the influence of LSD at the time.  This movie posits that Ellis was more than one weird story, but instead that he was a leader of a second generation of African American baseball players after integration.  Ellis spoke out against injustice to black and brown players and freely expressed his personality and African American culture.  Ellis received criticism from team management and the media for wearing curlers in his hair on field during pre-game warmups. In one key moment of the film, Ellis reads a supportive letter he received from Jackie Robinson, breaking up in tears as he reads it.

The high point of Ellis’ career was 1971 when his team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, won the World Series.  He was the top pitcher in the National League that season and after the American League announced Vida Blue as the starting pitcher for the All-Star Game, Ellis openly questioned if National League manager Sparky Anderson would “start two brothers against each other.”  Perhaps rising to the challenge, Anderson did start Ellis, making it the first time two Black pitchers started the All-Star Game.  Later the same season in a game started by Ellis, the Pirates made history by having a team entirely of black and Latin American players take the field for the first time ever.

Despite his on-field success, Ellis’ personal life was more troubled.  Like many ballplayers he was involved in a lot of partying after games as the team traveled across the country over a long season.  Over time Ellis fell into serious alcohol and drug dependency, punctuated by angry outbursts. His pitching performance became erratic and sometimes manifested in bizarre incidents such as the time he tried to bean every single batter on the Cincinnati Reds.  His home life was far worse.  His first two wives testify in the film to incidents of horrific domestic violence they received at the hands of Ellis.

After retiring from baseball in 1980, Ellis sought and received treatment for his addiction.  He dedicated the remainder of his life to working as a drug counselor both with minor league baseball players and with young men in prison.  The final portion of the film shows Ellis’ redemption for the bad things he’d done and the positive influence he made on people in counseling.  People interviewed in the film – teammates, friends, and those he counseled – all seem to remember Ellis fondly so I take it that his redemption was well earned.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

I didn’t really know much about Dock Ellis so I learned a lot about him, but this movie is also a glimpse into the America of the late 1960s and 1970s and showing how cultural changes and the emergence of Black Power manifested in the national pastime.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Watch movies like The Black Panthers or Wattstax which each show different aspects of the social and cultural changes of the Black Power era in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Also check out The Baseball Project song “The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads.”

Source: I watched this movie on Netflix streaming.

Rating: ***