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From Getting High to High Art: The Strange Journey of Dock Ellis

From Getting High to High Art: The Strange Journey of Dock Ellis (photo)

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The mythical story of Dock Ellis and the no-hitter he pitched in 1970 while on LSD is one giant matryoshka doll. There’s layer upon exquisite layer to be uncovered: The black power movement, the war on drugs, Major League Baseball’s free-agency era. And that’s just the first couple of layers.

In the last year, the story of Ellis, who died in 2008, has been resurrected in song — it’s the sixth time — with folkie Todd Snider’s “America’s Favorite Pastime.” That was followed by artist James Blagden’s psychedelic animated short, “Dock Ellis & the LSD No-No.” Now there’s a movie, “No No: A Dockumentary,” in production.

Austin filmmakers Jeffrey Radice and Mike Blizzard, “No No”‘s writer/director and producer, respectively, took the occasion of June 12th, the 40th anniversary of Ellis’ no-hitter with the Pittsburgh Pirates, to debut a seven-minute trailer of their forthcoming documentary. The location was The Highball, the new lounge/bowling alley operated by Austin’s homegrown movie theater chain, Alamo Drafthouse.

06212010_DockEllisandtheLSDNoNo.jpgThe trailer opens with a frame of text: “I pitched every game in the major leagues under the influence of drugs.” Whether or not Ellis pitched his no-hitter on LSD, four years after the drug became illegal, is beside the point (Ellis was equally infamous for beaning hitters). LSD was just a metaphor for doing things your own way, being your own man.

“You draw people in with the LSD,” Radice says, “so you can start to address much bigger issues. What is it to be a role model as an athlete? What is heroic behavior? I mean, Dock was certainly flawed, but he was human and he was honest about his flaws. And that’s the story to me: how his honesty about himself and his own flaws become as much a part of the story as the drugs he was taking.”

Through archival footage and interviews, we meet a man in Ellis who is funny and charismatic, and who likes to tell it like it is — part Richard Pryor, part Eldridge Cleaver. “I would try to out-milligram any opponent,” Ellis said in the trailer. This played well with the radical times, but it really ticked off Major League Baseball, who didn’t appreciate Ellis being so vocal about rampant amphetamine use among its players.

We also begin to see a glimpse of the man behind the legend — a Zelig whose influence ranged from the at-risk males he counseled about drugs for roughly a quarter century after baseball, to Glen E. Friedman, the acclaimed photographer of the ’80s punk rock and skate counterculture, who as a boy got a signed baseball from Ellis that read, “You can do anything you want,” to the U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, whom it’s said Ellis got high with before bunkering down with them in the trenches while on a USO tour.

06212010_DockEllisBooks.jpg“There’s this story about Jackie Robinson writing Dock this letter,” Blizzard says, upon qualifying Ellis’ place in baseball’s first all-non-Caucasian lineup, with the ’71 Pirates, “basically saying, what you’re doing is good. Keep doing it. But it’s gonna be a hard road to tell the truth.”

Radice adds, “The two times I’ve heard him recite that letter he’s broke down crying.”

Radice already has two Sundance-selected short documentaries to his credit, as producer. The most recent, “LSD A Go Go,” about MK-ULTRA, the CIA’s mid-century experiment with LSD as mind control, sparked a lot of hallucinatory tales.

“People love to share their own personal LSD stories,” Radice says. “It kicked something loose in my brain about this piece of folklore that I had heard about Dock Ellis.”

That led Radice to “Dock Ellis: In the Country of Baseball,” a biography written by Donald Hall that was published in 1976. Hall, who would become U.S. poet laureate in 2006, had a long history with America’s game, having played softball with Robert Frost in his youth.

“Here’s this academic poet, kind of hippie-looking white guy, long hair, but he and Dock Ellis kind of became friends over a couple of spring trainings,” Radice says. “So there’s this connection through this school of very traditionalist American poetry that ends up at Dock Ellis, and that gave me something really to think about.”

06212010_DockEllisGungHo.jpgRadice and Blizzard plan to shop “No No: A Dockumentary” around to festivals next year. In the mean time, they’re working to score interviews with, among others, David Lander, better known as Squiggy from “Laverne & Shirley,” who was at Ellis’ LSD no-hitter; Ron Howard, who directed Ellis in the movie “Gung Ho,” and whose “Happy Days” character Richie Cunningham often ran into Laverne and Shirley; and Michael Keaton, who starred in “Gung Ho,” and who is a huge Pittsburgh Pirates fan.

“We’re not just sitting around on the couch smoking a joint and talking about this anymore,” Radice says.

[Photos: “Dock Ellis and the LSD No-No,” No Mas, 2010; “Gung Ho,” Paramount Pictures, 1986]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.