Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Speed Merchants

Following on from Le Mans (watched last month) I decided to maintain the theme with a similar slice of retro motor racing. And I suspect that’s pretty much what the film’s producer Michael Keyser must have been aiming to do as well. It’s setting, the 1972 World Sports Car Championship, has more than a hint of the iconic Steve McQueen movie about it, but this time the action is real.

It principally focuses on Mario Andretti at Ferrari and Vic Elford at for Alfa Romeo, but Brian Redman, Helmut Marko and Jacky Ickx all make significant supporting appearances, as do a mouth-watering array of sports racing cars. However, despite its abundant car-porn, the film’s main success is intimately portraying the emotional toll of racing, back in the days when fatal or career-ending accidents were all too common and the money raised from racing could barely support a family.

The obviously scripted commentary from the two main drivers, complete with some hilariously wooden tagged-on comments strangely adds to the appeal. Far from seeming ‘put up’, The Speed Merchants comes over as both authentic and deeply atmospheric. The impressive level of access to all the major teams helps no end, but it’s the striking cinéma vérité visuals, combined with Paul Harris’ genuinely haunting piano score which really bring this film to life. As the final frame freezes with Andretti’s Ferrari 312PB streaking along the main straight at Watkins Glen there’s a feeling that they genuinely have frozen a moment in time.

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