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

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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.”

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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.

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