F1 and America – Will Audiences Find The RUSH?
Ron Howard‘s new movie Rush, which chronicles the dramatic 1976 duel between Niki Lauda and James Hunt, opened in limited release mid-September and this past weekend throughout the U.S. This movie has provided me the opportunity for a lot of thought and discussion about the success of Formula 1 here in the States and why Americans have been reluctant to embrace this form of racing. Although this is an independent film, Ron Howard is such a respected director and the public is so aware of his work that this film automatically has a higher profile than other Formula One films like Senna. So of course I am wondering if it can raise the profile of Formula One racing as well.
Although this is not a review, for the record I thought Rush was a very solid race movie. The acting was quite believable; both actors nailed it according to people that know the real drivers. As far as accuracy, and I was old enough to remember the Seventies, Howard definitely captures the feel and the look, which is good because there is nothing worse than a period movie that does not get it right. The special effects were also very believable, and although there was a chance for this film to be over the top or overly dramatic just for drama’s sake, it was nice to see a bit of restraint in Howard’s final analysis.
If I have any complaint it is that I came away feeling that the movie could have said more. More about the cars, more about the danger, more about the era, more about the edge all drivers are trying to find. In a word, just more about the RACING. Don’t take my complaint too much to heart, I had a very high bar the movie needed to reach and for the most part it did. But let’s get to the questions we’re addressing lately on AmerF1can.com, why hasn’t F1 succeeded in the States yet and will this movie be the trigger we need?
Ron Howard has clearly been immersing himself in racing in order to make this film so I was curious to see what he had to say on these points in an in-depth interview in the October issue of Road & Track Magazine.
R&T: Why do you think that F1 has never really caught on in the U.S.?
RH: Probably because it didn’t originate here and there weren’t a lot of Americans drivers, for starters. The manufacturers were elsewhere; its’s an imported sport. That’s one reason. Plus, a circuit is harder for spectators. But I think the reason that it’s starting to pick up momentum is because it’s so well televised and the world is getting smaller. I think the sport is very telegenic and exciting. It sounds kind of strange, but also the success of the show Top Gear and how it’s found its way into America, is a factor. But I think there are a lot more F1 fans that you realize, especially because of TV.
The fact that they’ve built a track in Austin, I think that’s a great invitation, and the Montreal race has remained very popular. That’s the other thing: If we get a few races in the U.S., plus Montreal, then suddenly the F1 racers will get a chance to come here, they’ll be on television more. The media will help fuel that interest. When I talk to serious NASCAR fans, they like formula 1. They don’t turn their noses up at it. It just hasn’t been accessible. That’s my entirely anecdotal experience.
Interesting, that is almost exactly what our expert James Allen said about F1 and America as well. This is still a bit hard for me to wrap my head around. So what that we didn’t invent it? Who cares where it came from? As Americans we buy BMW’s, Mercedes, Porsches, Range Rovers, Infinities, and a crap load of Nissans, Toyotas, Hyundai’s, Subaru’s and Mitsubishis just to name a few and these are all imported as well. We are a nation of immigrants after all. You don’t have to be born here to be revered in America. The simple act of doing something difficult with intensity and passion is usually enough. I want to address this very point further and will tackle it in a future post but for now will let it be and get back to our main topic.
First of all, can a movie change the way people think at all? The short answer is yes, absolutely. We only need to look at the movies from the 70’s, what I would consider America’s golden era. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, All The Presidents Men, Norma Rae, these are all movies which had a massive effect on the public and helped to change the consciousness of a nation. More recently: Traffic, A Beautiful Mind (a Ron Howard film by the way), Boy’s Don’t Cry, Hotel Rwanda, The Constant Gardener and for me, the mother of them all, Blade Runner. Movies that are not only telling a story but display a specific point of view, show us a new idea, ask us to look further at something we are not familiar with.
Of course all these movies are quite different from Rush I will admit; social unrest, sexual orientation, unionizing, the drug trade, racism, cloning and playing God, all intense subject matter, agreed. But then again life vs. death is pretty intense. Consider that these drivers willingly race in a sport that promises, as Niki Lauda’s character states, a twenty percent chance that they might not get out of the car at the conclusion of each and every race. Yet week after week in this film, these two literally risk their necks to compete against each other. That is intense.
Let’s look at a movie that has a lot in common with Rush: Top Gun. Navy pilots. Speed, rivalry, life and death. After the release of the film, the United States Navy stated that the number of young men who enlisted wanting to be Naval Aviators went up by 500 percent. So a good film plus insight into an exciting topic can equal significant interest and a change in behavior.
I have seen many movies and would consider myself a student of cinema. Movies are more powerful than books, radio, art, or any other media because they are more alive than any other media. To watch a movie is the ultimate existential experience. Because you are not actually the character you can see the bigger picture (no pun intended) and understand things the character does not know, but because a film can be so compelling (when well shot with good acting, writing and editing) you can also be right in the moment with the characters, hearing, seeing and feeling exactly what they are going through. This is what all great movie making is about, the end game if you will and when you also have a compelling subject matter you can change the audience’s reality.
Will Rush have this effect on audiences here in the US? I think it can and the only question remaining is to what degree. It still might remain a niche sport that Americans at large aren’t quite ready to love, but I think we can increase the fans for that niche sport significantly with this film and I’ll be happy with that.
It seems Mr. Ron Howard agrees with me. Back to the October Road & Track interview.
R&T: What did you focus on to get American audiences to care about the sport?
RH: I’m not an ambassador. I think that if the movie does its job and is accessible and relatable, that ought to entice people to explore the contemporary version of the sport, the way Senna may have. I hope we entertain enough that people become curious. That would be flattering. But the movie was a labor of love by everyone on the creative side and behind the camera, too. It’s unbelievable-we have Oscar winners everywhere you look behind the camera. Everyone wanted to be involved and thought it was a cool challenge. And we made the movie responsibly enough that it’s not a product. But we all recognize that its’ an unusual subject, and movie fans, if they go see Rush, have to be ready to try something new. and I certainly hope they do.
Very nicely said Mr. Howard. One has to keep in mind that Rush was not a movie about Formula 1 per se, and thus should not be viewed through the F1 prism. It’s a movie about a rivalry between two very different men and how that rivalry affected their lives. The story just happens to take place in front of a compelling backdrop that is Formula 1 racing.
It is said that a long journey starts with one step. F1 still has a long way to go to be considered an outright success in the States but maybe we’ll look back ten years from now and see Rush as a link in a chain of events that helped F1 become more accepted here. If so, it will have accomplished something beyond just being a good racing film.
-jp- (just a link in your chain, chain of fools – Aretha Franklin)