In the famous words of Parvulesco the Writer from Jean-Luc Godard’s masterpiece Breathless (played by Jean-Pierre Melville), the ultimate goal in life is for a person “to become immortal, and then die.” However, it’s also dangerous to view a person’s life as that simplistic, for the item that one would become immortal for may ultimately overshadow a fully lived life, one with as many downs as there were ups.
Take a look at legendary journeyman baseball player Dock Ellis. Best known for being the “Muhammad Ali of baseball,” Ellis’ claim to fame besides being an all around great pitcher, was that he allegedly threw a no-hitter while in the throes of an acid trip in 1970. While that in and of itself does boggle the mind and is an interesting curio, this factoid has become the first thing anyone mentions, or is maybe the only thing anyone knows, when his name is brought up. That is until now.
The subject of a new documentary entitled No No: A Dockumentary, Ellis’ life is thrown under the microscope, and what is uncovered is that as much of a raconteur Ellis truly was, he was also as influential a leader in and outside of the sports world as one could ever imagine.
Despite having a title that would lead any viewer to believe that the sole focus of the film would be set squarely on the no-hitter, director Jeff Radice’s new film is a brazenly intimate and all encompassing look at a fully lived life. Covering all the ups and downs of Ellis’ life, from his drug use to his romantic relationships, all the way to his life changing stint in rehab, this is as much a character study as it is a true blue documentary. Beautifully shot and crafted with as much vitality and energy as the central man’s life was lived with, No No’s style is as much an extension of Ellis’ life as the narrative is a direct telling of it. Featuring new interview segments with everyone from family and friends to teammates and others who knew the man best, as well as archival video footage and photographs, the film is as seamless a biographical documentary as there could ever be, and as entertaining a film as well.
It’s also one that has no interest in focusing on one simple moment in this man’s life. Instead, the story being woven here is one of redemption, and one that is deliciously dense and stimulating. Ellis lived a full and deeply influential life, and it’s all found within this roughly 100 minute long film. The film takes the legendary no-hitter and uses it and the circumstances surrounding it not only as a launching pad to show his evolution from addict to redemption, but also to shine a light on his impact in the civil rights movement, and in various other realms. Culminating with his time as a journeyman pitcher and then as a voice for many athletes in their battles against addiction, the film is a vital piece of storytelling that is aesthetically rewarding and also deeply moving emotionally.
Overall, while many may scoff at the film as nothing more than just another sports documentary, Radice’s new film is so very much more. A character study of the highest order, this is a documentary that may go underseen by many people, but will hopefully find the large audience it deserves, thanks to its availability in theaters and on VOD. Moving, engaging and unforgettable, this is a sports documentary unlike any you’ve seen before, in honor of a man that was just as singular.