As part of what they’re dubbing “Errol Morris Week,” Grantland and ESPN Films are releasing six new short films by the legendary documentary filmmaker, and you should watch as many as you can right this second. The first few released include all the hallmarks of Morris’ previous projects—warmth, humor, inventive re-enactments, vivid and eccentric characters, a witty soundtrack, and even a bit of politics. They will be enjoyed by anyone who’s a Morris fan—even those who don’t care for sports.
The series is titled, “It’s Not Crazy, It’s Sports,” and it dives much further into the craziness than the sports. For these shorts about people with strange, powerful obsessions, the marketing department could have easily recycled the old tagline from Morris’s Fast, Cheap & Out of Control: “There is a thin line between madness and genius.” Throughout the series, the characters take their various passions to the point where you wonder about their emotional welfare. But as in so many of Morris’ documentaries (and as in so much of sports, for that matter), the madness reveals itself to be the crucial ingredient to creativity.
Morris is, as always, a master interviewer, and the interplay between these peculiar, fanatical individuals and the straightforward, inquisitive Morris is played brilliantly for laughs. In “The Heist,” you have the bungling Cameron Crazy who attempted to steal Michael Jordan’s jersey as part of some grand, failed prank on the University of North Carolina. The anonymous Dukie’s face is blurred throughout the film as if he were revealing secrets about Abu Ghraib. At one point, as an incredulous Morris asks him what would have happened if one of his accomplices had dropped from the rafters of the Dean Smith Center, an instructive, animated illustration imagines what the resulting “crushed heap of human flesh” on the arena floor might have looked like.
In “Being Mr. Met,” you have the college improv artist who stumbled into becoming one of the most iconic mascots in professional baseball. It turns out that the tension between commerce and art exists in even the most unexpected places.
The sweetest by far of the four documentaries that were released as of Thursday is “The Subterranean Stadium.” The film is about a troupe of former high school companions who still gather in one friend’s basement to play electric tabletop football more than 40 years after they’ve all graduated. Anyone who has ever known a true collector will immediately recognize the endearingly obsessed electric football league commissioner John DiCarlo and his band of misfits, which include an ex-con, a retired Kodak white collar worker, and an ex-hippie hot dog vendor named Peter “The Hotman” Dietz. As DiCarlo does things like lovingly caress a handcrafted Troy Polamalu miniature with his index finger, Morris’ lens manages to make his softhearted clichés come off as profound truths.
My personal favorite character, though, is “The Streaker,” Mark Roberts, who, oddly, might be the most relatable and sane of the bunch. You could probably guess what this man’s particular hobby is, but there’s much more to Roberts than meets the eye. He’s done “every major sporting event in the world,” streaking in 22 countries over the last 22 years at events such as the Olympics, the Super Bowl, Wimbledon, and the world synchronized swimming championships. Roberts, who calls himself a “performer,” comes off far more like a professional showman than a creepy exhibitionist. Within the film’s opening seconds, he has you convinced that his stated motivation for all the criminally public nudity—“I love making people laugh”—is nothing if not perfectly reasonable.
If you’re only going to watch one of these, I say make it “The Streaker,” but be warned that you’re likely to become obsessed yourself and end up watching them all.