Tuesday, December 01, 2009


From my great and true friend psaga comes word of a terrific animated short by filmmaker James Blagsden commemorating an event Major League Baseball is probably not exactly clamoring to document or verify under its own banner. In the summer of 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Dock Ellis' tossed a no-hitter in a 2-0 victory over the San Diego Padres. But according to Ellis, the bats were not the biggest challenge to his pitching skills that day; more likely the greatest difficulty came from maintaining his equilibrium and an ever-shifting sense of physical reality while under the influence of LSD. The game occurred at a time when unexpected and/or semi-significant events such as these often went flying off into the void of space as TV signals unpreserved by videotape. Apparently no one has ever come up with anything close to a complete video account of the game as it unfolded. But Blagsden’s film takes a different tack and the audience might even be better for it. The movie, Dock Ellis and the LSD No-No, is a black-and-white short film composed of minimally realized, vividly imagined sketches decorated with psychedelic marginalia, all in illustration and elaboration of Ellis’ own recorded account, edited from a 2008 interview, of that strange day when the ball seemed at once larger and smaller than usual, a day when he both cringed in fear of routine grounders and then improbably lunged for unassisted and acrobatic outs at first while the skies were filled with vibrating diamonds and newspaper taxis, a day when no one could get on base against the pitcher with the bloodshot, kaleidoscope eyes.

Blagsden sets up his no-frills approach as an expressive counterpoint to Ellis’ vivid and funny account of the events leading up to the game. Ellis tells of losing an entire day while hallucinating and ending up “high as a Georgia pine” (an image literalized to hilarious effect by Blagsden) as his girlfriend drags him out of bed and toward the park, the athlete still floating on a freshly absorbed tab and amped up by a variety of "bennies." Ellis was never a demon on the mound— his career record is an okay 138-119. But against incredible odds (and isn’t that a recurring theme of many great sports stories, however morally impudent they may be at heart?) and eight walks, Ellis manhandled the Padres that day, providing for some undoubtedly wild choreography for those who saw it live, as well as the basis for Blagsden’s outrageous animated hallucinogenics in the retelling. Ellis’ voice on the audio track is impudent and comic as well; the man seems unable to suppress his own giddy disbelief at the unlikely feat he managed to pull off. But Ellis, who died in 2008 from cirrhosis of the liver, after retiring from baseball and reinventing himself as a specialist in transitioning prisoners back into society as well as a drug counselor for disadvantaged youth, would undoubtedly appreciate Blagsden’s movie on its own terms. Dock Ellis and the LSD No-No is not only a hilarious, stylized remembrance of Ellis’ youthful wildness but also a tribute to a man who found a way through the mutating landscapes of drug abuse and onto the path toward a more constructive life.

James Blagsden's Dock Ellis and the LSD No-No
(Much love and thanks, psaga!)



WelcometoLA said...

That was great!

le0pard13 said...

"That was pretty f*cking trippy..."

Thanks for this, Dennis.

Bob Westal said...

Believe it or not, I actually spoke to Dock Ellis once about five years back in connection with a charity golf tournament my old employers were holding. I actually had never heard of him but found out who he was via google. (No one at the company had any clue about it, of course.) He ultimately didn't show up, but he seemed like a very cool guy.

The film is great, btw -- my bad for not thinking to pass it along to you when I saw it some weeks ago via Ebert's twitter.

Bob Westal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justin said...

as a pittsburgh baseball fan (though, not necessarily a fan of the baseball they've been playing in pittsburgh lately) i've always loved this story. for me it ranks just below mazeroski's home run in game 7. a nice little short to commemorate it.