In Hirokazu Koreeda's 1998 film After Life, people who have just died arrive, after a walk through a fog, at a strange government office building. Here, bureaucrats ask the dead to name the most important moment in their life. Almost none can do so immediately, and many need help in the form of videotapes of their days and nights to locate it. But once this is done, the dead person is processed and filmed, and spends eternity in the moment that defined their entire life. If Dock Ellis, a black American baseball pitcher whose professional career spanned between 1968 and 1980, appeared at this department of the dead after his life ended in 2008, he would have had no problem determining the moment that defined his time on earth. It happened on June 12, 1970, in San Diego. There, on that day, he pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres (he was pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time). But what made this achievement more than exceptional—even cosmic—is that Ellis was tripping on several hits of LSD.
There are two films about Dock Ellis. One, an animation by James Blagden, is called Dock Ellis & the LSD No-No. The other, a new documentary by Chris Cortez, is called No No: A Dockumentary. The former is a very funny short about the moment that gave Ellis eternity in baseball history and American culture: pitching the impossible while totally tripping. The other is a serious, feature-length film that looks at Ellis's youth (he was raised by a stern and hardworking father), his discovery of his gift (he could throw balls at very high speeds), and his first marriage (to the most popular hottie at his high school). We then learn about the impact that the death of his father had on him, his resolve to become a professional baseball player, his entry into the minor leagues, his promotion to the major leagues, his outspokenness about American racism, his taste for flashy cars and clothes, the rollers he wore during practice, his admiration for Muhammad Ali, his heavy drinking, his many drugs, and the all-important day he broke with the continuum of reality by pitching a no-hitter while colors and stars were exploding in his head. This part of the documentary uses the same interview as Blagden's short to tell the story of the all-American miracle—Ellis tells of waking up in a woman's apartment after having placed a tab of acid on his tongue, learning he is pitching that day ("What happened to yesterday?"), catching a flight, being high as "a Georgia pine," stepping on the mound, throwing balls at a catcher's fingers, being informed by another player that he was making history, and so on—but it is nowhere near as funny. In fact, it sounds a bit tragic.
After that peak, Ellis does more drugs, drinks more and more, divorces, remarries, hits Reggie Jackson in the face with a baseball, and finally crashes and retires in 1980. Then Ellis enters drug treatment, cleans up, and becomes a bit of a bore; this last part of the documentary feels long and is, unfortunately, dull. There is just no way around it: Ellis was a much more interesting person when he was drunk and high than when he was sober. What all of this shows is that the universe has no god, and that good and evil have nothing to do with its structure. Morality is human. Greatness is immoral.