Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"1" (Movie Review)

I liked this movie a lot--enough to buy the DVD.  Probably that's because it's a documentary, with plenty of old footage and modern interviews.  Basically it's a history of the passive safety movement in Formula 1 from (roughly) Jim Clark's fatal accident in 1968 to improvements made after Ayrton Senna's death in 1994.

For those of us of a certain age, Jimmy Clark's death remains a touchstone.  He never overdrove and never made mistakes: "If Jimmy can die at the wheel, nobody gets out alive".  It was the end of the notion that because the best never make mistakes, only those driving over their heads get killed (Somehow, Stirling Moss's two near-fatal accidents "didn't count".)  It was the end of innocence.  Make that the end massive denial.

It's interesting to see how attitudes toward risk, on the part of both drivers and fans, have changed.  The film posits a theory that driver fatalities were acceptable in the early postwar era because racing drivers were in heroic individual combat, like fighter pilots.  Maybe.

Individual driver attitudes are not so different, now, from what they were at the time.  Jackie Stewart, then and now, sees no reason why racing shouldn't be made as safe as it can be.  Mario Andretti thanks his lucky stars that his number didn't come up.  Jacky Ickx still says (I paraphrase), "It's a dangerous sport.  A driver know the risks when he straps in.  If putting your life on the line is too high a price to pay, find another career."

A point the film makes in overall context is that TV changed everything.  Gruesome crashes and deaths were one thing when reported, usually in a glossed-over way, in the print press with black and white photos (if any).  But fans don't want to see their heros die in their own living rooms, in color, in real time.

Regarding what I will call "active passive safety" Mario Andretti made an interesting point.  He believes that if his Lotus teammate Ronnie Peterson had received the kind of emergency and triage care that is now routine, after his fatal accident in 1978, he'd be alive today.  The kind of emergency medical response that I've taken for granted for the past 30 years was Dr. Sid Watkins's pipe dream 10 years before that.

The film's interviews are comprehensive: from Max Mosely, Bernie Ecclestone, and the late Dr. Sid Watkins to some of the drivers who were household names in the '70's, '80's, and '90's.  (See the illustration above for a small sample.)  Some of the grainy film footage from the 1970's is particularly compelling--for me anyway.  I love the look and sound of those cars.

My main complaint about the film is the over-use of quick cuts.  On the plus side, the music is first-rate and the dubs are evocative of the decade they portray.  A very effective video tool is "fade to black" when a fatality occurs.

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