Wednesday, July 03, 2013

31 Day Film Challenge, Day 3: A Film That Makes You Happy

Most people who know me also know of my unabashedly-fangirl affection for the 1997 documentary Hands on a Hard Body, which tells the story of an endurance contest in which roughly two dozen small-town Texans compete to win a Nissan hardbody truck. The concept is simple, really: everyone puts his or her hand on the prize at the start of the contest, and the last one standing with a hand on the truck gets to drive it home. The contestants are allowed a 5 minute break every hour and a 15 minute break every sixth hour. They can't lean, they can't sit or squat, they can't have anyone else stand in for them at any time and, most importantly, they can't ever, not even for a second, take their hand off the truck.

I know what you're thinking. How hard can that possibly be? 

But here's the thing: the 1995 version of the contest, which is the subject of this documentary, lasted for SEVENTY-SEVEN CONSECUTIVE HOURS. That's more than three straight days and nights, people. Without sleep. Without a shower. With very little movement. Standing the entire time. Concentrating on a task so mind-numbingly quotidian-- keep your hand on the truck-- that it becomes exponentially easier to screw it up with every passing hour.  After the first day and night of the contest passes, the contestants are already in pretty severe physical pain.  By the middle of the second day, the ones who stick around feel their bodies begin to numb from sleeplessness, exhaustion, stiffness and soreness, the unrelenting Texas summer heat.  For those who make it to the third day, and into the third night, the mind begins to betray, the mental strain morphs into delirium.  They're faltering, they're suffering, they're hallucinating, some of them are having conversations with God.  But this is Texas and there's a brand-new Nissan hardbody on the line, so God is offering them no respite.

Why does this film make me happy?  Because it captures almost everything great and small that I love about the curious sort of talking-apes that we call humankind. The way we dream.  The way we keep on believing even after there is no longer reason to do so, by force of will alone.  The way we push ourselves beyond the limits of the poor, weak bodies we're given to navigate and suffer this world.  The way we me friends of and with each other, inspire and are inspired by each other, challenge and support each other.  The imaginative, ingenious, thoroughly committed way that we set projects for ourselves, even absolutely insane ones like the Hands on a Hard Body Contest.  The way we overcome.  And above all, the way we can make art of it.

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