Being someone who watches documentaries about every conceivable subject, I like to speculate about how much cross-over appeal a movie might have. Some documentaries strike such a universal chord, they can be embraced by a diverse array of viewers. Others may have a more specialized allure. "Branca's Pitch," at first glance, seems like a title that would primarily be of interest to those with a fascination for baseball, especially from a historical perspective. That's a big "duh," right? As the movie progresses, however, its simple structure reveals something a little more complex. In many ways, the documentary debates the nature of truth and how we each construct a personal version of events over the years. The notion of biography is not about absolutes but about perspective and bias. And this examination, done very subtly, lends an unexpected element to "Branca's Pitch" that I found quite intriguing.
On the surface, Andrew J. Muscato's film covers a period of time in which infamous Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca enlists the aid of ghostwriter David Ritz to pen a biographical treatment of his life. Branca is most associated for the so-called "Shot Heard 'Round The World," a pitch that lost the 1951 National League Pennant to the Giants in the most amazing come-back story in sport's history. Branca was vilified by the press and public, and this one moment has defined much of his life. As "Branca's Pitch" opens, we meet the elderly Branca. He's a nice guy who insists that he's made peace with the events of his youth. And truthfully, there's no reason to suspect otherwise. The beginning of the movie is as much about the book writing process as it is about baseball, and Ritz is just as central throughout.
Eventually, though, we get to Branca's recounting of events. As Branca lays out the scenario, once again I took his statements at face value. But what is truth? What is perspective? Even Ritz isn't concerned with literal facts if the essence of a story is maintained. As more of the truth unfolds, however, you start to realize that the narrator is somewhat unreliable. Not only does the shocking story behind the Giants' win come into focus, so does the multi-layered persona behind Branca unfold. You're left, in many ways, to piece things together for yourself. And while I may not be describing it very effectively, it was an absolutely fascinating experience. In the end, I felt I came much closer to knowing Branca and the dynamics of how one moment can affect a life. He may not always reveal the full story (intentionally or not, I suspect not), but the movie does. An interesting approach that grows more meaningful as the film progresses. KGHarris, 9/13.