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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]

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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