ESPN Films - Catching Hell (Alex Gibney)
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With five outs remaining in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, a foul ball descended from the cold Chicago sky, seemingly destined for the glove of Cubs left fielder Moises Alou. But a flurry of hands reached up and one hand, belonging to Cubs fan Steve Bartman, fatefully tipped the ball away from a frustrated Alou. Most long-suffering Cubs fans, including a chorus of hostile ones in Wrigley Field, quickly became convinced that Bartman had swatted away Chicago’s chance of advancing to the World Series for the first time 58 years. The mild-mannered Bartman released a sincere public apology, but his fate was already sealed by the Cubs fans’ need for a scapegoat to explain a near-century of losing. Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney relates the scapegoat compulsion to his own frustration as a Red Sox fan when Bill Buckner was similarly singled out for letting a fateful ground ball go through his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Gibney engages Buckner and his story as a means of exploring what has kept Bartman so silent despite highly lucrative offers to tell his side of the story. Run Time 103 Minutes Official Selection: 2011 Tribeca Film Festival
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Wrigley Field has affectionately, if cloyingly, been called the "Friendly Confines" since the days when Jack Brickhouse manned the broadcast booth and called games for the Chicago Cubs on radio and television, but this film almost makes one think twice about attending a baseball game within its ivy-covered walls. The uneasy realization that perfect storm circumstances can suddenly turn inhabitants of packed stands into an angry mob, as shown in network and home video in this presentation, shakes one to the core. This engrossing film explores all aspects of the infamous Steve Bartman incident, which took place during Game Six of the 2003 NLCS, when the Cubs were six outs away from defeating the then-Florida Marlins and advancing to a coveted World Series berth for the first time in several generations of long-suffering Wrigley faithful. Interviews with fans, writers, TV announcers, Wrigley Field security personnel, and players from both sides enrich this exploration of the collective psyche of sports fanatics gone ballistic.
The inclusion of a Boston Red Sox correlative appears to have provided a bone of contention among some Amazon reviewers. I can say that, despite the overabundance of Red Sox-oriented drivel that's most certainly circulating out there, this film actually benefits from the addition of a shared Boston perspective. The similarities in the ways Bartman and 1986 Boston first baseman Bill Buckner became whipping boys for the fans from their respective "nations" (Bartman being a Cub fan) are undeniable. It makes perfect sense to include the Sox side-story: both Buckner and Bartman were unfairly singled out for the failure of a team to close the deal in a game six. Both were unfairly branded and chastised as embodiments of imagined curses which were supposedly cast upon these storied franchises, purportedly causing each of them to go without winning a championship in several decades (in the case of the Cubs, more than a lifetime).
Most folks forget that the damage had already been done prior to the Buckner incident, that the game was in fact already tied thanks to a series of Mets singles and a wild pitch. And Mookie Wilson attests that he would have beaten the aged, bad-kneed Buckner (a former Cub, by the way) to first base even if Buckner had fielded the ball cleanly. Video of the play bears him out. Similarly, Bartman had little to do with the Cubs' group implosion of October `03, all of which happened on the field in most dramatic fashion, including a costly infield error and, also mirroring the Boston collapse, a wild pitch. And can we really assume that left fielder Moises Alou would have caught that foul ball if Bartman hadn't touched it? As in life, there are no guarantees in baseball, and stranger things have happened in this venerable old game than a semi-competent fielder not making what may or may not have been a sure catch. Who would have been the scapegoat then?
If anything, the Buckner correlation makes "Catching Hell" interesting to a wider audience than just Cub fans, who by the way should be thankful to Mr. Gibney for this; if the content were limited solely to the carryings-on of Cubbies loyalists, the ugliness of sports fans at their absolute worst would be associated only with them in this film. They would, in fact, be more likely to become scapegoats of sports fandom in general, much like Bartman became their scapegoat for Cubs futility. Thanks to the added Boston angle in this film, the darkness that envelops bitter fans' hearts is spread around a little.
The treatment that Steve Bartman recieved from the crowd that night was despicable, disgusting, and totally inexcusable. This poor innocent person had his very existence turned into a nightmare over a simple twist of fate. Other fans had their hands out to catch the ball hit by Luis Castillo but by luck it bounced off Steve Bartman's hands. The actions of the network sportscasters as well as the post game commentators only sought the feed the anger already felt by the fans. What was not shown in the network broadcast of the movie (and should have been) was a statistical depicition of just what type of impact Steve Bartman's actions actually had on the game which was almost nonexistant in comparison to the subsequent mistakes made by the Chicago Cubs themselves. This was in the "Extras" portion of the DVD.
Alex Gibney managed to do what should have been done by the TV networks long ago and that was to exhonerate Steve Bartman. As he has kept to himself and gone about his life and accepted no money or offers for appearances, Steve Bartman in the long run has shown himself to be a truly class act in comparrison to his fellow Cubs fans. Catching Hell is a movie which has to be seen to be believed. Just when we think that we have advanced as a culture we realize that the farther we think we've come, the furthur we seemed to have regressed. It makes us reevaluate what is important to us in life both collectively and as individuals.
Alex Gibney may be America's top documentary film-maker & his talent is on full diplay in this fascinating look at 2 recent "goats" in American sports. Bill Buckner's infamous gaffe in the World Series is explored here along with the target that was painted on Steve Bartman's chest by various entities when he may or may not have cost the Cubbies their 1st WS appearance in decades.
Buckner speaks very movingly about what he & his family have gone through since his error. Your admiration for him can't help but to grow as you listen & watch him talk. (I've been a Buckner fan since his days with the Dodgers).
Buckner made himself available to Gibney, but Bartman didn't. This makes Gibney's exlporation what happened that night in Wrigley much more difficult to tell. However Bartman's personal absence is treated as perhaps a smart move by him & makes him an even more fascinating character -- a J.D. Salinger of baseball lore if you will. The flight of that fated foul ball is given all the study of a police shooting review (I'm tempted to compare the attention given to the Zapruder film but I don't want to compare a baseball game to a presidential asassination.) Some people may find all this analysis a bit much, but it allows for other players to emerge for better & for worse. Bartman comes off as a really good guy & every bit an enigma.
The extras on the DVD are well worth checking out as well.