Fearful Symmetry

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Hands On A Hard Body

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Go Baby Go

Go Baby Go

I sort out Hands On A Hard Body after hearing y, Hands On A Hard Body, Filmit referred to by a couple of documentary directors as a key inspiration for them.

The film follows an endurance competition in East Texas organised to promote a car dealership to win a hard body pickup truck. The rules are simple: you just have to stand next to the truck and keep one gloved hand on it, day in day out for as long as you can with just a few minimal breaks for resting, feeding and watering. Last man (or woman) standing can drive the truck away.

The film concentrates on a few of the more colourful contestants out of the two dozen that start. Stand-outs include an ex-marine, the stoic previous winner of the contest who had latest 80+ hours, an overweight religious fanatic who sings hymns to keep her going, and a missing-teeth hillbilly type who’s equally gapped-tooth husband supports her wearing a home-made cardboard hat. That is when he’s not bragging about the industrial air conditioner he’s installed in his house; that’s an air-conditioner that once cooled an whole store and he claims can now get his house down to freezing temperatures…

However what starts as fun turns into something else and what could have been a complete freak show develops into something deeper as we start to see the effects of extremes of human endurance. There’s some grizzly desperation in the contestant’s eyes and you really start to feel empathy with some of them. Whilst physical fitness and the sheer ability to just stay awake for several nights running is important, what seems to be the key for survival is basically a type of mental stubbornness and clarity to escape the delirium and hallucinations that cause some of the more long-standing contestants to make mistakes and fail.

It’s pretty cheaply shot by local S.R. Bindler and the cameramen manage to miss some of the key events but the contest itself makes up for that, gripping all the way to the end, with some surprise twists along the way.

The action of the contest is intercut with interviews with the contestants. These clips are often contrasted with the event itself for ironic or humourous effect – the previous contest veteran talks about being careful what you eat and avoiding greasy stodge, like for instance, hamburgers. Cut to a couple of contestants wolfing down monsters Macs in one of the early breaks… and who we see dropping out soon after.

There’s controversy when one of the contestants accuses others of cheating, and that the amateur volunteer judges are not spotting it. The film is cleverly neutral on that particular incident, just clearly showing another point where the accusatory contestant themselves briefly takes both hands off the truck and does not get caught. And at one point one of the competitors just wanders off into the night across the car park trying to find here whey home and you have to wonder where the organisers are

However what’s pretty surprising is that for the most part there’s a real sense of camaraderie among all the contestants and some returning after dropping out to support others.

I can see why Hands On A Hard Body has been an inspiration to other documentary as it has a involving natural narrative that gives an insight into human behavior depicting something that you have never seen before. And something that you are unlikely to see again now. In a later contest, after the film was finished, during one of the breaks a contestant went to a nearby Kmart store, took a shotgun from the sporting goods department, and fatally shot themselves.


Written by Fearful Symmetry

July 23, 2009 at 10:06 am

Posted in Review

Tagged with , ,

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