October 12, 2011 3:26 PM |
Posted By: Monkey Harris
Rated 5.0 out of 5.0 by 2 members
I didn’t go to watch Senna at the cinema for several reasons, chief among them being a fear of leaving myself in an emotional state incompatible with sitting in a public auditorium. Ayrton Senna de Silva was, and still is, my hero.
Yesterday I bought the documentary and plugged it into the Blu-ray player. I had no preconceived idea of what to expect beyond the generally good reviews it had received, and I had vigorously avoided anyone telling me anything specific about the film’s content.
In parts, Senna is an exceptional piece of work. In fact viewed dispassionately within the genre of documentary, it has few faults. From beginning to end it feels crafted and loved - a product that Asif Kapadia and his team wanted to use to show-off their skills.
But as a reflection on the life of Ayrton Senna I don’t think it actually deserves the universal praise it has garnered, and I say that as someone who swells with pride at the thought of a film about a dead racing driver topping the sales charts at the start of the association football season. Most of you will have seen it, many of you will disagree with what I’m going to say. Here’s why I think Senna is, in some respects, a little disappointing.
For starters, the title is misleading. This isn’t Senna, it’s Senna: ‘The F1 years’. Just as a great motor race is actually nothing more than the residual effect of the hard work pounded out in the previous days, so an F1 career is the legacy of earlier struggles. We had a glimpse of late 70s karting, but nothing of the Brundle-battles in F3 or his earlier struggles in Formula Ford.
The film is notable not for the voices that it uses to narrate the story, but for the ones which are absent. Expert journalistic evidence is provided by two people I’d never heard-of before, not in itself a problem, but I desperately wanted a greater degree of validation. People who went toe-to-toe with Senna, people from his life rather than outsiders looking-in. There’s no Mansell, no Berger, no Piquet, no Emmo. No Prost - although that last name needs qualifying in a minute.
Perhaps the best sporting documentary of modern time is ‘When we were Kings’ the captivating Foreman v Ali biopic. It’s a pungent piece of work that somehow makes you feel like you were there that night, and it uses music like no other documentary I’ve seen. Every sound was contemporary with the time and the context: everything from James Brown to a jabbering succubus. Senna was a definitive character of the 80s and early 90s, but the score doesn’t reflect that. Instead it falls into that old trap of assuming that Steve McQueen’s Le Mans defined the generic big screen soundtrack for motor racing. It denies this film a proper context.
Like any Senna-devotee, I can’t believe that Donnington ’93 was brushed-over. I won’t say any more.
There was some unfortunate over-dubbing on the Monaco on-board footage. This might just be a pet-hate of mine, but if the sounds don’t match the behaviour of the man or the machine, I struggle to engage with the experience. If it was rugby, you wouldn’t allow the ooofs and aaaaahs to not sync, why do it here? That’s frustrating when you’ve got Senna, a V8 and a manual gearchange. Truth be told, that Monaco clip looks better on YouTube where the audio hasn’t been tweaked.
Where was Bernie? As if I need to ask the question, but even if his cooperation was never going to be possible, the FOCA/FISA/FIA shenanigans was the stage on which the Balestre nonsense was played-out and it was ignored.
Returning to Prost for a moment: I scanned through the extended-version film on the disk and found a whole load of extra interview footage, much if it with the narrators of the theatrical cut and therefore of little added value, but also with Ron Dennis and Alain Prost. I know Alain’s Franglais is marginal and Ron’s elongated pauses are insufferable, but given their proximity to the man in question, it’s not surprising to note that they offer by far the most astute and interesting insights into Senna’s life and character. And yet they both lurk on a different version of the film. If you’ve only seen Senna in the cinema, buy the disk and watch these clips, they’re important.
It’s clear that many of Senna’s friends, adversaries and colleagues didn’t want to be a part of this production. It’s a crying shame really, and I hope that now they can see how beautiful and powerful it is on both small and big screens, they can appreciate how their insight would have completed the circle. As it is, the climax of the ’94 San Marino Grand Prix is captivating for the way it works with minimal voices, just the narrative of images and facial expressions; V10s exploding against Imola’s concrete walls. Those 20 minutes are this film’s moment of glory. And yes, I did cry.
Verdict: 3.5 stars. Powerful; unfulfilled.
As a footnote. If anyone's interested in investigating the Senna/Prost rivalry further, I'd strongly recommend Senna versus Prost, by Malcolm Folley.