A STORY OF FANDOM

                   A film by Joseph Coburn and Katherine Foronjy

                                   Review by Dana Brand        

           Mathematically Alive is a new documentary film about being a
    Mets fan.  It is a moving and accurate portrait of Mets fans as a group,
    and as a phenomenon.  We are allowed our uniqueness.  After all, being
    a Mets fan is different from being a fan of other teams.  But one of
    several brilliant things that the filmmakers do is show us how Mets fans
    exemplify the human race at its best, and arguably, at its healthiest.  At
    the end of this film, you come away with the impression that the world
    would be a lot better if everyone was like a Mets fan:  if everyone
    derived their greatest pleasures from loyalty, love, and community, and
    not from anything as flimsy or uncertain as triumph.  

           Mathematically Alive doesn’t have big music or elaborate
    computer visuals.  There is no overblown narration.  You could never
    mistake this for a commercial or a promotional film.  It begins simply
    with a series of short spots in which a very diverse group of people,
    interviewed in many different places, contribute observations about
    what being a Mets fan means in their lives.  The comments and vignettes
    are carefully selected.  The faces are interesting, the people are honest
    and open.  They are very serious about their loyalty to the Mets; they
    understand that it is something worthy of respect.  But they all have a
    little smile on their face, as if they are aware that someone might
    question, as if they themselves have often questioned the reasons why
    they take a game so seriously.  This amused, yet serious attitude is
    everywhere in the film.  It is everywhere in the voices and on the faces
    of the Mets fan.  

           The opening creates a sense of a larger community of fans.  At the
    end of the film, we will return to this larger community.  This creates a
    nice sense of balance because the middle of film focuses on just a few
    of the individuals we’ve heard from in the first part.  We visit the
    festive, selfconsciously crazy people who used to camp outside the
    stadium in February waiting to buy Opening Day tickets. We follow a
    group of women, great fans of Mike Piazza, as they travel to Chicago to
    attend, at Piazza’s invitation, his induction into the Italian-American
    Sports Hall of Fame.  The women talk about their trip with a serious and
    joyful dignity.  We understand that for them this is a pilgrimage.  We are
    delighted when they are so grateful for Piazza’s attention.  We identify
    with their desire to be close to him and yet not to bother him.  And when
    they gather hours early at Shea in order to welcome him back on his first
    visit as a Padre, and he arrives unexpectedly in a limo service instead of
    his familiar car and they miss seeing him, we feel their desolation.  

           The central portion of the film is filled with psychologically
    powerful moments like this.  One woman movingly recounts how she
    managed, without permission, to scatter her sister's ashes in left field,
    fulfilling her last request.  The driver of the Mets Mobile tells of driving
    his Mets-festooned car beside the Mets team bus and he imagines the
    conversation that the Mets players are having about his car.  Collectors
    talk with dignity about the treasures of their collections, about their
    collecting as a spiritual occupation, not an economic one.  They brush
    off the comments of those who would tell them to get a life.  They know
    that they have a life and they know that one of the ornaments of their
    lives is the powerful, wonderful enthusiasm that has assembled this
    collection.  They are not interested in selling anything.  None of this is
    about money and one of the wonders of this film is the way in which it
    repeatedly shows that however much baseball is more and more about
    money, baseball fandom is not and never will be.  In this loving portrait,
    fandom emerges as a pure and noble thing.  

           Without anybody having to say it, this becomes the main point of
    the film.  Mets fandom is shown to be something deep and real,
    something worth experiencing for itself.  It makes our lives more
    interesting and meaningful.  It is not an escape.  It is not trivial.  The
    film’s segments show us several appealing families connected by their
    love of the Mets and it shows us several that are amusingly divided by
    baseball loyalty as well.  The film shows us that Mets fandom is about
    living in communities, as we listen to tailgaters in the parking lot
    celebrating their reunions, as we follow a group of friends in green Mets
    jackets as they walk behind bagpipers and Mr. Met in the Rockville
    Center St. Patrick’s Day parade.  

           Another persistent theme in Mathematically Alive is that Mets
    fandom is all about loyalty and not necessarily about winning.  All of the
    fans in the film have been with the Mets from the beginning and even
    though all of the beginnings are in different years, they are all in the
    same internal place.  For the kind of fan featured in this film, the Mets
    are permanent.  They cannot be dislodged.  They are part of what we are
    as people.  A minister of a church near Philadelphia puzzles and yet
    wins the admiration of her parishioners because of her absolute loyalty
    to her Mets.  People wear funny hats and stupid jackets and ignore what
    others might think.  People make it clear that one of the best things in
    their lives is what they have felt in that parking lot, in those stands, on
    those resounding ramps.  

           All of this comes together in a beautifully constructed segment near
    the end of the film focusing on the seven games of the 2006 NLCS.  We
    follow several of the people we have come to know in the film’s middle
    section  as they experience exactly what we all remember experiencing
    as we followed that series which will always encapsulate the particular
    pleasures and pains of being a Mets fan.  This deeply emotional film
    reaches its climax as we see people who have imaginatively become
    our friends respond to the final game of that series.  It all comes together
    here.  All Mets fans will see themselves in these people at this moment.  
    There are our tears, there is our philosophy, there are our defiantly
    smiling eyes, there is our profound unhappiness, there is our true
    happiness.  We get this from the words of these people and we get this
    from the brilliant use of the camera by Coburn and Foronjy.  We are
    inside the Mets Mobile at the end of this segment, listening to its owner
    Eddie Sanchez, offering the familiar eternal lament of the Mets fan.  
    Outside the car we see and we feel the bright lights of the stadium
    reflected in the puddles of the wet and deserted parking lot.  

           There are many moments of emotionally significant visual power in
    this film.  Coburn and Foronjy know what to do with a camera.  I love
    the way they capture the chaotic poetry of the scene outside of Shea.  
    And one of my favorite visual moments is a scene in which one of the
    women waiting for Piazza stomps off in despair with her poster as her
    calm and puzzled family, all eating ice cream cones, turn to watch her at
    exactly the same moment.  

           One of the best and smartest things about Mathematically Alive is
    that the fans speak for themselves.  We do not see or hear the
    filmmakers.  This creates a wonderful sense of generosity and openness
    that is the tone of the whole film.  Transitions are handled by printed
    words on the screen.  The only sense we have of an outside voice is a
    professor of sports psychology who says some things about the
    psychology of sports fandom.  When he first came on the screen, I was
    worried.  As a professor myself, I know that we can be dangerous as
    talking heads.  We tend to talk too much and we tend to think that it is
    our job to explain what other people are doing.  But there’s no need, it
    turns out, to worry about this guy.  He’s really smart, and like the
    filmmakers, he is deeply respectful.  He is not trying to “explain” the
    peculiarities of ordinary people.  Rather, he humbly confirms what they
    have themselves said, and he puts the fan’s own wisdom into an
    accessible, though more objective language.  We need his perspective to
    draw all of this material together.  He is the one who, near the end of the
    film, can put into words the point the whole film has made:  that being a
    baseball fan or at least a Mets fan, whatever it may look like at times, is
    not a sickness but a form of resilient sanity.  

           I love this film.  I think every Mets fan will.  It makes us clear and
    it makes us familiar.  And it is not just for Mets fans.  Not by any
    means.  It is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone who has any interest at
    all in the way human beings live their lives, develop their enthusiasms,
    and deal with disappointment.   It is amusing, well-paced, fun to watch,
    and deeply moving.  It is not clogged with baseball detail.  It’s not about
    what happens on the field or in the clubhouse.  It is about what happens
    to you.  You could use it to explain why you’re a Mets fan to anyone
    who doesn’t currently understand you.  It’s the best portrait I’ve ever
    seen of what it means to be a Mets fan.  It will show you the things that
    you know about yourself as a Mets fan, but that you never hear about if
    you just watch the TV or listen to the radio.  This film deserves wide
    exposure and our support.  I am so happy that it has been made.

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