2022 Tribeca Film Festival
It is not finished Exam
Is there anything new to say about one of the most prominent athletes of the 20th century, someone who was also a very important figure in pop culture?
It is not finished, a new documentary about Yogi Berra, finds a way to do just that. Arriving seven years after Berra’s death in 2015, the film draws on interviews with former teammates, members of Berra’s family, and nearby baseball celebrities like Billy Crystal and Bob Costas, while tying that in with seemingly unlimited access to old game footage and archival interviews with Berra and others.
Director Sean Mullin and the producers also brought in plenty of Old Yankees, and just in time four subjects of the film, including pitcher Ralph Terry, have died since passing their interviews.
The film’s executive producer is Lindsay Berra, Yogi’s granddaughter, who also appears as a talking head, so it’s a family-approved production. He paints a portrait of a slick, funny man who was almost universally beloved in the game, though he never shied away from holding grudges. Plus, many of the famous “yogi-isms” probably weren’t spoken by the former baseball player.
Born into an Italian immigrant family in St. Louis in 1925, Berra was particularly short for a catcher, but nonetheless became the most decorated backstop in baseball history, winning 10 World Series as a player, making 18 All-star teams and catching the only perfect game in World Series history, from Don Larsen in 1956.
But Berra’s influence is as much about his public persona as his play. He was known for his amusing malapropisms, as well as his appearances on talk shows and television commercials. He even inspired the cartoon character Yogi Bear, though he never gave permission or garnered financial revenue from the character – and the film makes it clear that Yogi himself and his family members have long despised this animated bear.
The man was also known for his grudges. When Jackie Robinson flew home during the 1955 World Series, Berra thought he was missing and apparently complained about the appeal to anyone who would listen for the next five decades. Berra was notoriously so upset that the Yankees fired him as manager in 1985 that he walked away from the organization and refused to set foot in Yankee Stadium for 14 years. The film details this feud and how it was ultimately settled; Berra returned for Yogi Berra Day in 1999, the same day David Cone pitched his perfect game, with Berra and Larsen in attendance.
And that extended to his family. They’re clearly so angry that Berra wasn’t named one of the four greatest living players in 2015, months before his death, that it’s the first thing they mention in the movie. They were, however, successful in pressuring President Barack Obama to award Berra the Medal of Freedom, but not before his death.
We also hear from Berra’s son, Dale, who played for his father with the Yankees in the early 1980s. Dale, now decades sober, was embroiled in the Pittsburgh Pirates cocaine scandal in the 80s when it was determined that the guy dressed as the Pirate Parrot mascot was actually supplying players with drugs. I would go for an entire documentary on all of this.
It is not finished is likely to appeal to former Yankees fans, but also those perhaps too young to remember Berra’s playing career or media ubiquity. There’s no word yet on the cast of this fun version of a baseball legend.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs June 8-19. Visit the official festival website for more information.