Errol Morris’ New Short Film, Team Spirit, Finds Sports Fans Loving Their Teams, Even in Death

Look at the fil­mog­ra­phy of doc­u­men­tar­i­an Errol Mor­ris, and two themes jump right out: first, the extent to which we humans can obsess, and sec­ond, the intel­lec­tu­al, legal, and mechan­i­cal appa­ra­tus­es we build around death. Gates of Heav­en gave us a tale of duel­ing pet ceme­ter­ies. The Thin Blue Line painstak­ing­ly inves­ti­gat­ed an inves­ti­ga­tion — a botched one, of a mur­der. A Brief His­to­ry of Time and Fast, Cheap, and Out of Con­trol offered the thoughts and the­o­ries of men bent on tam­ing lions, trim­ming hedges to per­fec­tion, build­ing small robots, study­ing naked mole-rats, and know­ing the nature of the uni­verse. Mr. Death, a for­tu­itous inter­sec­tion of sub­jects if ever a film­mak­er had one, fol­lows a man whose devo­tion to build­ing a more humane exe­cu­tion sys­tem brought him to the wrong side of — which is to say, into the favor of — a pack of Holo­caust deniers. Though released under the aus­pices of ESPN and the ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, Mor­ris’ lat­est short, Team Spir­it, looks at a slice of human­i­ty prac­ti­cal­ly made for his fea­ture-length doc­u­men­taries: sports fans so obsessed that they arrange to express their team affil­i­a­tion even in death.

One fan had his body not laid in a cas­ket, but propped up in a reclin­er and draped in a Steel­ers blan­ket, as if asleep — in front of a tele­vi­sion play­ing a Steel­ers game. Anoth­er went buried entire­ly in Cow­boys attire, and request­ed that all her funer­al’s atten­dees, priest includ­ed, wear the jer­sey as well. A NASCAR fan who nev­er got to dri­ve on the track did, ulti­mate­ly, ride a few laps on it, albeit as an urn of ash­es. A funer­al home direc­tor remem­bers a fan who request­ed every­thing at his cer­e­mo­ny be Ravens pur­ple. “That’s my first mem­o­ry of any sort of sports-relat­ed funer­al we did,” he explains. “Until we got this Ori­oles cas­ket.” As a mere­ly casu­al view­er of sports, I’ve nev­er quite grasped the process by which one picks a team to fol­low, to root for, to love; clear­ly, none of these depart­ed faced such doubts. With its first-per­son Inter­ro­tron inter­views and Philip Glass-esque score, Team Spir­it feels of a piece with the rest of the Mor­ris canon, a body of work that has over and over again found the thor­ough­ly human cur­rents in sub­cul­tures that seemed unreach­ably out on the fringe.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Errol Mor­ris Cap­tures Com­pet­i­tive Eat­ing Cham­pi­on “El Wingador”

“They Were There” — Errol Mor­ris Final­ly Directs a Film for IBM

Watch Errol Mor­ris’ Trib­ute to Stephen Hawk­ing, A Brief His­to­ry of Time

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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