Tribeca 2011: “Catching Hell,” Reviewed

Tribeca 2011: “Catching Hell,” Reviewed (photo)

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As long as the Chicago Cubs are baseball’s perennial losers, people will remember Steve Bartman and what he did on October 13, 2003. And that picture above is just how they’ll remember him: Cubs hat, black sweatshirt, dorky green turtleneck, even dorkier headphones so he could listen to the game on the radio. How could they remember him any other way? After the fateful night when he got between Cubs left fielder Moises Alou and a catchable foul ball and set off a chain of events that led to the Cubs’ implosion in the National League Championship Series and made him the target of an entire city’s hatred, Bartman dropped off the face of the Earth. A lifelong, die-hard Cubs fan, Bartman issued an apology to Alou, the Cubs, and even old players like Ron Santo and Ernie Banks, then never spoke publicly about the incident again. It’s as if he felt so punished for being in the wrong place at the wrong time that he made a conscious decision to hide away forever to prevent history from repeating itself. Now director Alex Gibney has directed a film about Bartman called “Catching Hell.” Not surprisingly, Bartman declined to participate, which makes one of the most famous spectators in the baseball history a kind of spectator in his own documentary. This time, though, you can’t say he gets in anyone’s way.

Gibney’s documentary was originally intended to air as part of ESPN’s great “30 For 30” documentary series. Its whole modus operandi was to pair great filmmakers with topics from the world of sports they were personally invested in. That approach led to some of “30 For 30″‘s finest episodes — like Steve James’ “No Crossover” about another native of James’ racially stratified hometown, Allen Iverson — but it’s the major flaw in the otherwise engrossing “Catching Hell.” Gibney’s story is about the Chicago Cubs, but Gibney’s not a Cubs fan. Boston is his team, and that’s where Gibney finds a personal connection to Bartman, in the life of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner. Buckner played for a similarly downtrodden team, made a similar blunder in a similar spot in a playoff game, and faced a similar penalty. But that’s basically where the parallels end; as someone even says in the film, Buckner was a famous baseball player. He was a public figure. It was his job to catch that ball. Bartman was just some guy.

The connection between Bartman and Buckner is probably worth a mention in the context of other famous baseball curses and blunders. But Gibney essentially uses Buckner to fill the void left by his absent protagonist. He painstakingly recreates the events of 10/13/03, interviewing the people who sat around Bartman in the Wrigley Field stands, piecing together and comparing home movies and video footage of the game, and speaking with the journalists and broadcasters who covered him. Gibney’s work is very detailed and very rewarding; I love, for example, his version of the Bartman play where everyone but Alou has been digitally scrubbed from the picture. But no Bartman means no hero and no arc, and that’s where Buckner comes in. He doesn’t just give Gibney his own way into the story. By framing Bartman’s tragedy with lengthy bookend segments about Buckner, Gibney gets to show the longview of what that sort of intense media scrutiny does to a man, and how it feels when that man gets his long overdue sense of closure. It also gives viewers some much needed catharsis after an excruciatingly painful story, though it will be small comfort to Cubs fans.

But I’m making the same mistake as Gibney; enough about Buckner. “Catching Hell” doesn’t need him as badly as it thinks because even without his participation, Bartman’s story is such an epic tale of human folly you’d swear Sophocles wrote it. The Bartman incident encapsulates all that we love and hate, all that is good and bad about baseball: its unpredictability, its drama, and above all its symbiotic connection between player and fan. In baseball, the fans in the stands feel like contributors to the success of their team. Or, as in this case, to their failure.

Of all the revelations in “Catching Hell” — and there are quite a few — the most interesting and most disturbing are the ones about the the mood in Wrigley Field before and after Bartman’s blunder. Home movies shot in the Wrigley bleachers capture pins-and-needles giddiness during the first seven innings. In the first moments immediately following the dropped foul ball, no one even realizes what’s happened. But then Alou has a visible tantrum on the field over Bartman’s obstruction. Suddenly the animosity spreads like wildfire. Bartman starts getting pelted with insults and threats and rained with beer. Nevermind that Bartman’s goof didn’t cost the Cubs the game, or the lead, or even put a runner on first base. Nevermind that a few batters later shortstop Alex Gonzalez blew an easy double play that would have ended the ending. In the eyes of livid Cubs fans, it was all Bartman’s fault. Gibney’s film puts his mistake in the proper context. He was far from the only guy to screw up in top of the eighth inning. Bartman did what any of us would have done. Just watch the video: he wasn’t the only one to reach for that foul ball. He was just the unlucky guy who got his hands on it.

Though I’m sure they’d deny it, I wonder if Cubs fans secretly enjoy nights like October 13. Now that the Red Sox, White Sox, and Giants have all won World Series after long droughts, the Cubs’ losing streak makes them a very unique team. Thanks to guys like Bartman, if and when they finally win the Series, it will be the sweetest victory in the history of professional sports. And if and when that day comes, you can be sure Bartman will be watching somewhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was still wearing his headphones either.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.