If a song could be president

24 09 2008

As we near election time, it only seems appropriate to give a little air time to Linford Detweiler and Karen Bergquist (Over the Rhine) to provide a little vision.

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“Its a human drama thing.”

14 09 2008

Friends who have known me for at least the past ten years are already chuckling as they see the picture in this post. That’s because I’ve probably made them watch this gem of a documentary, Hands on a Hard Body. My birthday just passed, and my wonderful wife found a rare DVD copy on Ebay.

If I’m not mistaken, Matthew McConaughey, bankrolled this project for a long-time friend who set up his gear at a car dealership in Longview, TX to record the slowest gladitorial event in history. Twenty-five contestants place their hands on a customized Nissan Hard Body truck, and the last one standing with his/her hand on the truck wins it.

When you stand back from this documentary and get philosophical, there is plenty of opportunity for commentary on our car-centric culture. You only have to take note of the desperation for wheels that motivates many of the contestants. But, this isn’t about winning a flash sports car. The contestants rarely comment on how nice the truck looks or how they want to impress their friends. They want to sell the thing and pay their bills or use it to move hay to the horses out in the pasture. This is Texas after all. As one of the contestants says, “A truck is a force. A truck makes money.”

From an artistic standpoint, it is hard to imagine a script that is more poignant and funny than what these very real and ordinary people in an extraordinary situation offer us off the tip of their tongues. There is a genuine earnestness that actors could never achieve as they share their faith, hopes, desires, and frustrations. Studio interviews with the contestants are masterfully edited throughout, and the makers of the film deserve enormous credit for their storytelling skills. They had a rich and motley cast to work with.

My father has often said, in partial jest, that one of the reasons Dr. Zhivago is a great film lies in the fact that, like much great art, “it’s wall to wall human suffering.” That’s pretty much true of “Hands” from the opening to the closing credits, but with one or two exceptions, the contestants are models of good sportsmanship regardless.

“Hands” is so dang compelling because it somehow manages to capture so many dramatic, narrative, and social features in one low-budget package: the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, the struggle of the every man, the jester who actually dispenses the wisdom (it will be obvious when you see it, though this jester seems humbly unaware of his profundity), youthful enthusiasm vs. maturity and experience, sportsmanship, the beautiful awkwardness of religious fervor, and the love of a man for his … wife (you thought I was going to say truck, didn’t you).

At one point early in the film, the jester figure describes the contest as a kind of gladatorial event at which the crowd wants to see contestants fail. “Don’t they realize that we’re suffering, that we’re hurting, and you know, you feel like they’re kind of blood-thirsty, in a way. And I mean, they’re there to see the spectacle, and it seems so absurd, very absurd, and you have to realize later, hey, you know, its a human drama thing, and its more than just a contest, and its more than just winning a truck.” It is indeed.