ESPN 30 for 30: The Day the Series Stopped (2014)

Directed by Ryan Fleck

Ryan Fleck’s entry into the 30 for 30 series had me a bit excited, especially after he, and fellow directing partner Anna Boden, delivered such a good sports film as Sugar just a few years ago. With the 30 for 30 series, which claims to bring acclaimed directors to the table, it is often hit or miss whether I’ve heard of the director or not. Some great installments feature such helmsmen as Alex Gibney, Steve James, and Barry Levinson, so seeing Fleck attached to the project was reason for hope of a good output. Instead, The Day the Series Stopped seems incomplete, suffering from a short runtime that touches on many interesting stories from the event, but never delving into enough depth to show a narrative heft to bring everything together into a unified presentation of a devastating event that occurred simultaneous to a great sporting event.

Of course the event in question is the earthquake that hit in October of 1989 in San Francisco, claiming multiple lives, destroying bridges, and interrupting the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and their cross-bay rival Oakland Athletics. How ironic it was that the year such a disaster hit the area, nearly 100 years after the last significant quake in the area, baseball’s greatest event would match the two teams from the area as well. Fleck focuses on a narrative timeline that follows the broadcast which was interrupted by the quake, hitting the highlights of the damage thereafter. Featuring interviews with players on either side and bystanders both in the stadium and in the damage zones, The Day the Series Stopped fails to feel either immediate enough to capture the impact of the event or reflective enough to consider the dichotomy between sport and the reality of life.

That, however, doesn’t mean that Fleck doesn’t try to hit these two angles of the event, but at just 50 minutes, no single side story is ever given its due unfortunately. For instance, we get a bizarre meeting with a hippie who was climbing the light standard when the quake hit. It becomes more of a strange telling of a fictionalized account of actual events than any kind of revelatory narrative or innervision into the true significance or expanse of impact. The most harrowing story included is that of Tim Peterson, a man who was trapped, crushed in his truck under the Cypress freeway collapse. I wish his story could have been told with a touch more tension and little more succinctly that Peterson’s own telling affords the tale.

There are two main things that watching this film has left with me. The first is a growing sense of desire to see a film similar to this about the attacks on 9/11 in New York and Washington, and their impacts on the sports world, baseball and the World Series in particular. Not to downplay the tragedy of the earthquake in 1989, but a film concerning 9/11 would have a lot of interest and a lot of material available to tackle. I think it may approach the topic of sport v. life more aptly than Fleck does here. The other thought that crossed my mind has to do with style. I wonder what a film like this would look like if edited together in the same vein as June 17, 1994, my favorite installment of the 30 for 30 series which features no talking heads, and only television footage covering the many sports events that surrounded the OJ Simpson car chase. Again, perhaps it would not have been as effective in this case.

But at the same time, the film needed more tension, more heft behind it than what Fleck is able to instill. For a film about a natural disaster such as this, The Day the Series Stopped really felt flat. I think it says something that the most the films gets me thinking, is about other ways it could have been done to be better. The subject matter is there, and a great tragic event such as this earthquake should be fodder for great storytelling, but unfortunately, the truncated story failed to grab me in any special way and impact or inform my view of the events more than a delivery of facts and a few players talking about their experience with the earthquake. My brother lives in San Francisco, so seeing something like this is somewhat frightening, never knowing when a big earthquake may come, and whether he, or the city itself, will be ready for when it hits. The Day the Series Stopped comes off feeling too light.

**1/2 – Average

 

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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