Thursday, April 02, 2009

This is what it sounds like when Germans cry...

I can remember the date exactly: New Year's Eve 2004. That was the first time I saw Anouk Aimée walking along a beach in southern France IN HEELS with her on-screen race car driving lover Jean-Louis Trintignant in Un Homme et Une Femme. I came away from that movie transformed. This was the life I never knew I wanted. This was how my life was destined to play out, it's apogee of perfection within view. My resolve was so firm, I even wrote it in my journal. One day, I too, would marry a race car driver. But he would be European and elegant like if Gianni Agnelli actually raced in the cars he made. None of this NASCAR business. I would still carry out my duties as co-founder and president of FPAW (Future Professional Athlete's Wives), but I would lobby with all my executive might and gusto to expand the bylaws to include "motor sports" as a viable marital category IN SOME INSTANCES.

It took Truth in 24 (available as a free download at iTunes) coming along to make me realize that I'd all but forgotten my quest. But I have been re-invigorated. I mean, really how could you not be after watching this film? It is much much more than a 90 minute Audi Infomercial. There was real drama as Audi, the top dog at Le Mans in recent years, struggled to maintain the top spot against upstart Peugeot whose diesel engine (a racing concept introduced by Audi) was showing up Audi's 650 HP (!) R10 at all the lead-in races. There was the asymmetry of one of Audi's team of drivers: Tom Kristensen (HEY BABY--Call me--I'm 12.5% Danish!), the Tiger Woods/Roger Federer of racing with 7 Le Mans wins grouped with Rinaldo Capello and Allan McNish, a one-time Le Mans winner (1998), who in the film miraculously evades death, facing one last try at glory before giving it all up. And the man behind the curtain, Howden Haynes, the engineer who makes one critical call that ends up being the deciding factor in 2008's 24 hours of Le Mans (so we can forgive him the so 90's, so passe curved barbell earring). Really engrossing stuff, and you don't have to be a gearhead (or a dude, for that matter) to enjoy it. Oh, and ladies, we have the added bonus of the dulcet East London tones of Jason Statham as Narrator.

The intensity of focus for these professionals was brought home as McNish gives you a second by second narrative of what it's like to drive one lap at Le Mans, as Kristensen takes the shift doing the night time laps at 300mph with minimal visibility to try to overtake Peugeot, and as Dr. Wolfgang Ulrich, head of AudiMotorsport breaks down and weeps, officially the first time I have ever seen a German cry about anything. Although part of you is pretty sure Audi isn't going to underwrite a 90 minute movie about their team losing to Peugeot Total, the conclusion is never assured. It's a great dramatic trick, getting the top dog to appear the underdog with something to prove. The documentarians behind the film would have had a great film with either outcome.

From Le Mans to Gran Prix to Talladega Nights, Hollywood has tried in the past, with what I would judge to be modest to mediocre success, to replicate the spirit of car racing that so captured the imagination of stars like Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. But maybe it was not so much the subject matter as the feature film format that failed. Fictional stories and manufactured characters pale next to the documented truth of life writ large at Le Mans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad you liked the film "Truth In 24" I need to change my earring! Thanks for the fashion tip......"H"