Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Steve Bartman "Catching Hell"

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Steve Bartman "Catching Hell"

(from 5/5/11)
The last time I interviewed Alex Gibney it was for Taxi to the Dark Side, his stunning, Oscar-winning documentary about America's use of torture on political prisoners, including innocents, during the Bush administration in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. This time, along with two other critics, I talked about something quite different with Gibney: the strange tale of Steve Bartman, the unfortunate Cubs fan who interfered on a foul ball at Wrigley Field during a playoff game and had the fans turn on him as the Cubs fell apart and blew their lead and chance to go to the World Series. Bartman's still in hiding. Gibney's film, Chasing Hell, recently played at the recent Tribeca Film Festival, and that's where this interview took place. I note my questions.
Q: I think its impressive how do you manage to get so many films made so quickly.
Alex Gibney: I dont know, man. I remember a time when it wasn't so easy to get films made, or people weren't asking me to make them, and I spent a lot of time looking out the window. I guess this is preferable to looking out the window. I think part of the thing is that I am an editor. First of all, I'm surrounded by a lot of talented people and that helps. I'm more experienced now, so I have a better sense of story, and sometimes these films take a long time to make. So while I'm waiting for something to happen on one, I can be working on the other. Once you get into that rhythm, then it's okay. But it's not easy.
Q: Are you going to keep veering away from the more political films and make more films like this?
AG: No, I'll always go back and forth. I've got to do both.
Q: Do you expect people to see this film as being in line with other things you do or as a departure for you?
AG: I don't know, that's up to them. I think there's an odd continuation, especially in regard to scapegoating and with how people focus on loser moments more than winner moments. In Client 9, there's that aspect. I'm interested in human psychology, and theres certainly a theme there. Both the psychology of the players, how they respond under pressure, and the weird crowd psychology, in terms of the desperate need to find some single person to blame for misfortune.
Q: I think the media whipping people into a frenzy is a consistent element in your movies.
AG: Well, the media, I think, needs to talk about something you need to make a story about something, and this is a story. I liked what Steve Lyons and Ed Goren, the Fox producer, said. Both of them said, "Look, we had an impact, we did do damage to Steve Bartman, but we also were doing our jobs. We may not have liked doing our jobs at this particular moment, but this was an important play, and we had to comment on it."
Danny Peary: Somebody in your movie said-maybe it was Bill Buckner--that every fan, including baseball players, would have done exactly the same thing as Bartman, reaching for the ball.
AG: Steve Lyons, the next day, during Game 7, reflecting back on that incident, drew rings around those people near Bartman, saying, "All these people were reaching up for the ball." I think they did do their jobs in terms of pointing that out. But in the days following, it just became reduced to Steve Bartman, and everybody kept wanting to talk about him. It was like the rending of the cosmic fabric, it seemed to be the moment where everything went wrong, the Cubs just collapsed.
DP: It was like his hitting the ball away from Moises Alou knocked the stars out of alignment.
Q: The broadcasters and cameramen seemed to put Steve Bartman in danger by calling so much attention to his having interfered with the ball.
AG: I agree with you. I think if there's a moment when the media doesn't look very good, this is it. Because by that time, you know that he was hounded down that runway, and that the whole stadium was screaming, Asshole, asshole, asshole. So wasn't there a chance that people were going to go after him? Yeah, I think there was. They outed him, so now you suddenly know where to go after him. Im not sure that it was such a good call.
Q: Do you think that he really didn't understand that he should have got down there sooner?
AG: That's the question I wanted to ask him if I could have spoken to him. I wanted to ask him what he understood and when. He seems to be frozen there in his seat, like a deer in the headlights, and he seems to be listening, clearly, to something, on his headset. Probably the radio broadcast. I'm not sure,
but maybe he was listening to Pearl Jam or something, I don't know. But we think it's the game, and maybe he heard all this hoopla about some guy deflecting the ball. But so many people reached up. Did he know? The young woman who was there says he kept asking her what happened, as if he doesnt know what happened.
Q: It's a study in crowd reaction, what you're dealing with once people get swept up in the moment.
AG: Social psychology is something Im really interested in. As you know, my favorite experiment is the Milgram Experiment. Stanley Milgram, the social psychologist. I'm interested in how people behave in different circumstances.
Q: Do you think that if Steve Bartman had given an interview afterwards it would have made a significant difference?
AG: I think it might have, to be honest with you. I think people might have gotten their fill. In a peculiar way, I sort of admire him for sticking to his guns and just deciding he was never going to be forthright again. I think if he had come forward and had been interviewed, people would have had their fill and they would have moved on. In an odd way, his wraithlike disappearance has made people more obsessed with his story. It becomes one of the interesting elements about it.
DP: I think what you're saying with Bartman, that's true. I think 99% of the Chicago fans would come to his side, but there is still that lunatic fringe. I think he's actually smart to stay hidden, like Salmon Rushdie at one time.
AG: Because of the one wacko fan who would take a swing at him. Maybe.
Q: How did you come to focus on this story?
AG: That was just my personal way in. I'm a fan too, and I remember that pain. That personal pain, for me, was Buckner in '86. This was my way into the story--not standing above the fray, but saying,"Look, I've been there. I remember that. Its not like I'm looking at you fans in some distant way. I'm a fan, too, and I recognize that pain and that anger, all those misplaced emotions."
DP: The Donnie Moore thing...
AG: That happened in '86 too [in the ALCS].
DP: Yeah, the previous series. He gave up a homer that cost his team the pennant and killed himself years later. Were the Angels fans after him, too? Did he get hate mail?
AG: My recollection was that they were after him, but there was collateral damage with Donnie Moore. He had some demons. I don't think he was driven to suicide solely by fans. He had some very severe drinking problems and some other domestic issues.
DP: But there was the sense of failure.
AG: Yeah, there was definitely the sense of failure, but I dont think he was driven to that place by that one ball he served up to Dave Henderson.
Q: Is this more heightened in baseball?
AG: Baseball is a game of anticipation. There's a lot of waiting in baseball. And when you wait, you think. You think and you imagine and you project. I think baseball is interesting and plays a lot of mind games with people both on the field and in the stands, because of all that anticipation.
DP: We feel as fans that we're helping the players, contributing to the joint victory.
And then when one of the fans ruins it, you blame him because you've been betrayed.
AG: I think that's why they went after Bartman. He was one of them. He had committed the Cardinal sin. They overlook the fact that everybody in that section was going for the ball. But he made himself a kind of easy target, sitting there, headphones on, looking straight ahead. Even though he had friends there, which took us a long time to figure out--they dont seem to be interacting with him.
DP: If Moises Alou told the fans to forgive Bartman, do you think that would have changed things?
AG: It might have changed a little bit. There were people who said stuff like that after the game. I think the bigger problem, frankly, for Bartman, was Alou's initial reaction. Which was done very much out of anger. He's the one who looks at Bartman over and over, going, You bastard. I think Alou felt bad. He wasn't that great a fielder, but I think he felt he could have caught it, and he wanted everybody to know that that guy fucked him up.
DP: Did you ever try to get in touch with the umpire who didnt make an interference call?
AG: No. At the end of the day, I concluded that the no-call was correct. Even if you could say, with the advent of the replay, that Bartman had reached slightly out onto the field, it was too close to call fan interference, so I felt the call was correct. I didnt feel getting the umpires perspective was necessarily valuable.
Q: The Cubs had such a loser's perspective.
AG: They assumed they were going to lose. They were so used to losing, to disappointment. They were comfortable, it's like an old suit. Even the players. Moises Alou says he booked his flight home right after the 6th game, because he assumed he was going to lose Game 7.
DP: In the production notes you list people you've interviewed in sports--Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras, and Magic Johnson, all whom never really failed in public like Buckner, who is in your film. But you also have Ted Williams in there. One of the things he's known for, besides every great thing in the world, is doing poorly in the 1946 World Series. A public embarrassment: his one World Series, where he flopped. Would you have asked him about that, or did you stay away from that?
AG: I didnt stay away from it, but that was a long time ago and I don't remember how much I dwelled on it. But I did ask him about it. It was just one of those things. He just didn't do that well.
DP: Well, he was heartbroken after Boston lost to the Mets in 1986.
AG: He wasn't the only one. He was a funny guy when I interviewed him, I was asking him a question about whether a Red Sox batter had too big of an uppercut He looked at me and said, "Stand up." I thought, woah, I'm the interviewer! He said, "Stand up. Assume the batting position." Then he went into this big long thing about why an uppercut is better, and how you can adjust better. I found it amusing; the interviewed was quickly the interviewer. He was a character. I liked him.
Q: Do you think the Cubs should invite Steve Bartman to come to the ballpark?
AG: The Cubs are in this funny situation. The Cubs want to move on from being lovable losers, and they want to pretend that they're just going to be the winners now. So they don't really want to go back to the whole Bartman thing. But I think they need to. I'm not sure Bartman would come. I think they should have a Bartman Day anyway, and everybody should be okay with the fact that Bartman doesn't come.
DP (laughing): Wouldn't it be great if he sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" up in the booth in the 7th inning at Wrigley Field, leading everyone in song?
AG: This "God Bless America" thing is bullshit. It's a game! Your'e at a baseball game, so sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game!"


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