1976: Hunt vs. Lauda (aka Hunt vs. Lauda) review

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1976 Hunt vs Lauda green light Nikki Lauda James Hunt

As with the semifictionalized Rush, this documentary look at the first superstars of Formula One is gripping even if you couldn’t care less about racing.
I’m “biast” (pro): loved Rush

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

If you were as captivated by Ron Howard’s Rush as I was — it still hasn’t been dislodged from my Top 10 after all this season’s Oscar bait — then you may want to check out this recent, short (under an hour) BBC TV documentary about the legendary rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, which framed the 1976 Grand Prix season. As with Howard’s narrative, the true story — which Rush, semifictionalized as it is, adheres closely to — doesn’t demand an interest in the sport: it’s full of reality that transcends racing. Via lots of vintage footage, including some not seen in years, and new interviews with participants in the ’76 season — including Lauda himself (Hunt died in 1993) — we come to see how extraordinary these two men were, not only as athletes but as people. Diametric opposites in almost every way imaginable — Hunt embodied a carefree playboy lifestyle, while Lauda was steely precision and almost machinelike professionalism — “they were good friends,” one observer notes… off the track, that is. On the track, it was all claws-out competition, often not only between the drivers themselves but between the Italian and British teams they raced for, in which dirty tricks were just part of the game. Perhaps most interesting to me, as a commentator on media, is in the intersection between ancient human nature (the drive to compete) and modern technology (the new capabilities for global live television via satellite) that resulted in these “first superstars” of the sport inventing Formula One as a pop-culture phenomenon. That fascinates me, entirely apart from my utter disinterest in fast cars driving in circles.

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