Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Senna film

Late on Tuesday afternoon, beneath a perfect azure sky, I took the train to Waterloo, between verdant hedgerows, liberally seasoned with Hawthorn blossom; beneath flyovers graffitied in big bulbous lettering; and past the blue-ribbed gasometer behind Battersea Power Station.

I was en route to see the UK premiere of Senna, at the Curzon cinema in Mayfair, a month before the film goes on general release. Organised by James Allen, the screening was introduced by a sprightly-looking Jackie Stewart, and included a Q&A session afterwards with director Asif Kapadia and writer Manish Pandey.

Martin Brundle delivered an eloquent analysis of the film, testifying to its rendition of Senna, and there was then a pleasant surprise when it transpired that Professor Sid Watkins had also been watching from the back of the cinema. Clearly moved, Sid was able to pay tribute to the documentary, and share with the audience a touching anecdote attesting to Ayrton's fundamental humanity.

And the film is certainly very good; I don't think any motor racing fan will be disappointed. However, in terms of the wider critical reception and commercial success of the film, there are perhaps two crucial questions: (i) What makes this a cinematic entity rather than a TV documentary? (ii) Is the material here of interest to those not already fans of the sport?

The story of Senna's fight to reach the top of his profession, his struggle against perceived injustice, and the tragedy of his ultimate demise, certainly evoke universal themes. However, a large proportion of the film also consists of what might be termed 'motor racing opera'. It's great stuff, but I'm not sure that it will necessarily interest those not already engaged by the sport. In terms of the cinematic appeal of the documentary, however, the large screen works very well. In the early shots from the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, you can really feel the presence of the cars, their speed and latent violence.

My personal highlight? An exchange between Senna and then FISA President, the bellicose Jean-Marie Balestre, at a pre-race drivers briefing in 1991. "My decision is the best decision," asserts Balestre with finality. After a pause, Ayrton responds, "I am getting a feeling for that."


corner1 said...

It was moving to see a much younger Frank giving Ayrton his first chance contrasted against him looking into the sky with his eyes red while in brazil. More should have been made about the Donington race as well as the Bercy Elf Masters, the last time Senna and Prost would race together and actually enjoy each others presence. Some of the footage was extremely refreshing, especially in his younger days. It was a different racing era that encompassed many changes; turbos to non-turbos, ground effects to flat bottoms, active suspension to non-active and the bespoke qualifying setups. The Portugese version did not have as much interviewer commentary and therefore "flowed" better. My favorite moment was at the end of the movie with the beautiful music playing, in response to a question, paying tribute to a great competitor Fullerton at a time when racing was at its purist.

Gordon McCabe said...

Fullerton was actually at yesterday's screening, and said a few words afterwards.

corner1 said...

Wow! What an audience. Good for you.

Unknown said...

My girlfriend has no interests in F1 at all and she watched the whole movie without a peep. She was actually with tears in her eyes by the end of the movie.

The movie really does convey the inetnse life of Senna and his amazing driving skills. It's the first time I actually seen her impressed by "guys driving in circles".

Senna's on board of him going around Monaco has to be the most impressive racing clip available.