Friday, August 19, 2011

The Senna Movie Experience

The Senna documentary was finally released in the Boston area and of course I had to go see it. What kind of F1 person would I be if I did not? It was a good crowd for a Friday matinee and oddly enough I was one of the younger people in the audience. There were a lot of couples and from what I can tell from the conversations a lot of supportive women coming with their significant others to take in the experience and get to know the person their partners have been blabbing about for all these years. I even briefly met a trio that drove up from Connecticut to view the film.

I will just say upfront that I really enjoyed the film. From a storytelling point of view, I liked that there was minimal narration; there was no "outside observer" telling you what was going on. The talking was mostly done by the characters through the commentary that is captured. I definitely love hearing the Senna philosophy and the use of the term "real racing". Also, I liked how Senna and Alain Prost's careers were juxtaposed when each was an older driver. Prost is seen as losing control of the situation over Senna at McLaren and complaining about it. Senna can be seen in a similar position after he moves to Williams for 1994 as he complains about the comfort level he has with the car and the certainty in which he feels Michael Schumacher and his team are using banned driver aids. Also, there was the narrative presented that Prost was the political driver and Senna was the true racer. There was a moment in the film in which Prost talks about expressly not wanting Senna at Williams in 1993 in blunt terms, but Senna giving the political answers of why he was not at Williams; a small but I think interesting observation as story telling goes.

From an artistic point of view, the archival footage in the film is epic. There were some new things I have never seen. For the most part it was TV coverage that in some instances was grainy and gritty. This made it akin to watching newsreels of the 1930's which to me is a romantic component of the film and it's historical value. Also, there was beautiful film footage that just brings you back to that era as if you are on the pit wall. Even with the quality of digital images today, I wish F1 would have something like NFL Films. It would certainly give F1 a different visual touch.

What I did not like about the film was they tended to gloss over or not mention some of his flaws and therefore it is not a balance view of the man and the story; particularly his rivalry with Alain Prost. Addressing this more clearly would have shown Senna in a more balanced light. Also, there were moments in the film that came across as victimology. Were there cases in which the FIA (at the time FISA) had questionable motives in going after Senna? Yes. Was that all the time? No. For instance, the lead up to Suzuka 1990 was basically portrayed as a conspiracy to put Senna on the dirty side of the track after winning pole position. But the reality was that the pole was on the dirty side of the track from at least 1987. I bring this example up because the issue with the pole position brought some gasps from the audience of Senna being cheated. This clouds the story and the subsquent actions Senna took in that race.

However, it must be said that writer and an executive producer Manish Pandey in an interview with F1 Fanatic, admitted error in not showing a little more of Senna's questionable moves in his rivalry with Prost and for legitimate movie making reasons, it was not completely depicted. So, although it lacked a balanced view of the rivalry it is acknowledged as such. In any case, I can accept it as it is a Senna film not a Prost film.

The film does leave the viewer with a clear sense of Senna's essence if you did not know who he was. He was one of the world's finest racing drivers and a master of rainy race conditions. Also, he was a god fearing man that was a humanitarian and Brazil's biggest advocate. It just could have been a more complete depiction that would have taken the complexity level up a notch for the causal observer. Nevertheless, seeing him and F1 of that era on the big screen is a treat even if you are not a racing fan. It is just a damn good story with complex and charasmatic characters.

The most fitting part of the experience was when the movie was over and I was leaving the theatre. I was in the midst of a thunderstorm in which the rain was coming down in buckets. I chuckled and did a double take to check for that iconic yellow helmet.

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