Last night I was fortunate enough to have been one of about a hundred or so road racing fans to attend the Southern California premiere of FASTEST, the latest film from Director Mark Neale. The screening was graciously hosted by Dainese D-Store in Costa Mesa, at the behest of the films distribution company, on a 9-foot projection screen inside the high-end retail outlet.
Following in the footsteps of his earlier feature length documentary FASTER, this latest peek behind the walls of Grand Prix life takes us on a trip through various MotoGP seasons. Through the eyes of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and the other Grand Prix regulars, we get to see just exactly what happens when the riders don their leathers and helmets, and take to gladiatorial battle on the tarmac amphitheatre.
The second half of the movie almost exclusively follows the progress of Rossi and Lorenzo and events leading up to their epic 2010 championship battle. Through the events recounted here we can live those wonderfully exciting moments again. Casey Stoner versus Rossi at Laguna Seca 2008. The final lap of Catalunya 2009. The race-long duel of Motegi 2010. The angst of Rossi as his young team-mate rises as a true contender, the pain as Rossi fights back from the broken leg suffered at Mugello. It’s all wonderfully documented here with some brilliant insight from the riders to add colour to the facts we already know.
However, much attention is given to Rossi, so the Rossifumi will revel in this movie. A couple of attendees I spoke with after the screening commented that there was too much Rossi, so if you are not a Rossi fanboi this may be a bit much for you at times. It’s a good look back at the season and some of the fantastic races between the FIAT Yamaha rivals, but it lacks some of the flare of it’s predecessor, FASTER, had. At times the second half of FASTEST felt a little bit like a Duke championship season review DVD.
Don’t get me wrong there are some cherished moments with members or the Rossi family and fan club, members of the Tavulia community where Rossi grew up. It’s these parts of the movie that are most engaging, that get the most laughs from the audience. These everyday Italians are portrayed as lovely people, and fiercely partisan about their homeboy hero. It’s just a shame the same attention was not given to Lorenzo to balance out the story.
The first half of the movie, conversely, is full of insight and personality. What stood out for me is the reason Valentino Rossi has become the global brand he has. The reason motorcycle road racing fans around the world worship him like a deity. The reason Dorna has pinned MotoGP’s success firmly to the coat-tails of Rossi. The reason? Vale is clearly a little rascal. A prankster. Full of charm and charisma, when he speaks his words often drip with sarcasm and wit. He pokes fun at his rivals with a cherubic smirk. Nothing seems to be too serious for the 9-time World Champion.
It’s no wonder fans love this racer. Stoner and Lorenzo, while clearly and obviously gifted and talented riders and worthy World Champions, are all business. Cold and clinical, there is no time in their world for tomfoolery. Another rider often accused of having no personality is Dani Pedrosa. Whilst not featured heavily in FASTEST, the moments he shared with the camera portray a man more shy than cold. It seemed to me like there was a warm personality just beneath the surface. This is something I have also heard from journalists who have spent more time with him than us fans get to. Once he knows or trusts you and opens up, Pedrosa can apparently be quite amiable.
It’s not all jokes and light-hearted however. The first half of this movie has a bitter-sweet streak running right through it’s heart. And that streak is flavoured Simonceli.
During the first 40 minutes SuperSic features heavily, and his personality shines forth like a laser-guided missile. Every part the prankster and mischievous rascal as Rossi, it’s also no wonder fans took Marco to their hearts so quickly and firmly as they did his Italian mentor. There is so much irony in the themes of safety and risk that are weaved throughout this movie. The deaths of Kato and Tomizawa, which for some are still too recent to accept, are discussed and one can’t help but draw paralels to Simoncelli. With the passing of Marco so recent and fresh in our hearts, this was incredibly hard to watch at times. The movie, instead of a celebration of the sport we love so dearly, it felt far too poignant and weighty.
I wonder how English fans, who got to see FASTEST several weeks ago, felt about it. Without the death of Simoncelli weighing on their hearts I wonder if the movie will be remembered in a more cheerful light than those of us who saw it post-Sepang. I wonder if I’ll feel the same when I watch this movie a year from now, two years from now, with Marco’s tragic exit from life’s race softer in our memory’s. Or if, like pop culture is absolutely capable of doing, watching FASTEST will always transport me back to this time. A time when our world, our road racing family, was shattered. And our collective pain united us across oceans and continents.
So is FASTEST a great documentary? You bet it is. Anyone with an ounce of road racing blood pumping through their arteries will love it. For me it falls short of FASTER, but it still got my heart pounding and my geese bumping. It’s a fantastic movie about Grand Prix motorcycle racers after all. It falls a bit short of epic, it left me thinking it could have offered me more. But that will not stop me from buying the BluRay when it is released, that much is a given. I just don’t think I can bare to watch it as often as I watch FASTER, but that may just have nothing to with Mark Neale’s documentary film-making prowess at all.