Watch Errol Morris’ Morbid Yet Charming Mini-Documentary About Sports-Themed Funerals

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 2 2012 5:18 PM

Did You See This? Errol Morris’ Mini-Documentary for ESPN

1343938281679
The Aggie Field of Honor, a cemetery for Texas A&M football fans, in one of Errol Morris' ads for ESPN.

Still from YouTube.

ESPN and ad agency Wieden + Kennedy’s “It’s not crazy, it’s sports” campaign has produced a spate of funny ads highlighting fans’ undying commitment to their teams. There’s the Jumbotron marriage proposal ad; the “shake on it” ad, in which losing bettors follow through on outrageous dares; the jocks-geeking-out-over-stats-in-the-cafeteria ad. At least one of the ads is unintelligible to those of us who don’t follow sports (what does “Roll Tide” mean?), and most of them parody or poke fun at the zealotry of the American sports fan.

But leave it to filmmaker Errol Morris to produce an “It’s not crazy” installment that finds unexpected pathos in what has to be the most die-hard, and most ridiculous, form of fandom: the sports-themed funeral. Morris’ “Team Spirit,” which launched on ESPN yesterday and includes several one-minute commercials and an eight-minute mini-documentary, profiles undertakers, a tombstone maker, and family members of fans whose final wish is to keep rooting for the home team from their graves. We hear about a Steelers fan who appeared at his wake in a recliner instead of a coffin, a Cowboys fan whose minister wore a jersey beneath his blazer at her funeral, and a NASCAR enthusiast who got to take a posthumous spin around the racetrack. “People always say when you’re a fan you’re a fan for life,” says undertaker Chuck Kaczorowski, who offers clients an Orioles casket at his Baltimore funeral home. “But that might be a little shortsighted.”

Advertisement

Morris is best-known for documentaries like Gates of Heaven (which concerned a different sort of odd funeral), The Thin Blue Line, and the Oscar-winning Fog of War. But he’s also a prolific director of excellent TV commercials, including a series for MoveOn.org, another for Apple’s “Switch” campaign, and a short film for the 74th Academy Awards ceremony, for which he shot footage of Donald Trump discussing Citizen Kane that manages, miraculously, to turn the cartoonish tycoon into a sympathetic character. “Team Spirit” features Morris’ signature style of intimate one-on-one interviews shot with his “Interrotron,” which allows his subjects to look at him while simultaneously looking directly into his camera. And even though its subject matter is ostensibly death and obsession, “Team Spirit” turns the rituals of superfandom into a charming, life-affirming form of human expression.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 2 2014 8:07 AM The Dark Side of Techtopia
  Life
Quora
Oct. 2 2014 8:27 AM How Do Teachers Kill the Joy of Reading for Students?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 8:47 AM Season 2 of The Bridge Was Confusing, Bizarre, and Uneven. I Loved It.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 2 2014 7:30 AM What Put the Man in the Moon in the Moon?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?