I attended a media screening of Eric Bana’s Love the Beast this evening (well, actually Feb 11, I didn’t post this straight away). I am pretty sure I was the only gearhead there.
BTW, Margaret Pomeranz was seated in front of me and I overheard her talking about the screening of The Watchmen she had attended early in the day. She said it was fabulous.
Love the Beast attempts to capture and represent the intense enthusiasm that Bana feels for the challenges and collective memory inculcated in his 1974 XB Ford Falcon coupe. One of the central metaphors is that of a campfire. The car functions as a ‘campfire’ around which Bana and his lifelong schoolyard mates congregate.
The film explores the complexities of the relationship between Bana and his car through the various forms of action punctuating their dual biography. To provide an insight into these complexities Bana attempts to stitch together the multi-dimensional relationships that have formed over the years. I can picture it in my head a little like a schematic for a fun park ride, an influence from here, a tension over there, and the ways the social and socio-technical challenges posed by the car mobilise the enthusiasm of Bana and his mates in differentially repeated ways.
Bana faces the challenges inculcated in the car differently as a young bloke growing up (modifying the car, attending car shows, hanging out with his mates, etc) compared to the challenges manifest when a movie star/adult (going racing, getting the car built, etc). I would’ve liked to have seen more of this, more of a focus on his younger days. He rebuilt the car three times, I think the second one was just before the car appeared in a magazine and Bana raced at Targa Tasmania for the first time. More about this era would’ve been fantastic.
The film is not a cynical attempt to capture the enthusiasm of car enthusiasts by interpolating it into box office takings ala the Fast and the Furious franchise. The only other film I am aware that comes close to what Bana is attempting here is The World’s Fastest Indian. TWFI also attempts to directly represent an intense enthusiasm, but does so in more of a narrative-based way. Indeed, TWFI is a fictional account of an actual set of events. Bana’s film is ‘real life’; although framed in certain ways.
Bana lays out the multi-dimensional character of his enthusiasm by using traditional documentary techniques and almost unbelievably blessed with old video (and maybe even super-8) footage of when he was a kid, teenager and young man with his car. Although the film does follow a rough dramatic arc leading up to his race at the Targa Tasmania, this is used more as a kind of dramatic infrastructure around which to organise the micro-narratives provide by his somewhat charismatic (‘knockabout’) mates, his mother and father, other racers, and the celebrity interventions of the other above-title luminaries.
I was not really convinced how much the ‘celebrities’ add to the film, but I guess I would have seen this film without them; therefore, they are not for me. I attended a media screening of the film in Sydney and from what I could deduce I was the only gearhead there (I am a writer for Street Fords magazine in Australia). The bourgeois cinephile beside me snorted a suppressed giggle at whatever came out of Jeremy Clarkson’s mouth; Clarkson is entertaining in a boorish sort of way. Dr Phil surprised me a little bit. I always dismissed him out of hand for being a popularist TV equivalent of a parlour trick. However, here Bana brings out his best, and Dr Phil almost (but not quite) comes across as compelling.
Similarly, Bana designed the film to be watched by an international audience and the opening scenes about “what most people around the world think of Australia” were interesting for locating Bana in the context of his background. The international audience will get such references as Mad Max, the celebrity talking heads, and so on.
The editing is mostly superb with a fine use of montage to play on the rhythm of expectation (everyone knows what is going to happen to Bana’s car at the end), building up the tension and then relieving it. The camera work here is a cross between race car event coverage with documentary footage, with a few long, gliding shots of cars moving during the race; a bit like surfing cinematography or skateboarding in the way the camera attempts to implicate itself in the action.
Overall, the film is entertaining, intriguing and funny, and definitely a credit to Bana. Go see it.