Quentin Tarantino is The Simpsons Comic Book Guy of directors. His love of pop culture is all-encompassing, and, in another lifetime, he may have been dishing out his frantic and fevered thoughts on popular art from behind a counter of CEX with Cheeto bags scattered around his feet. Fortunately, for our sakes, he went on to make a few masterpieces of his own.
However, the good people of Manhattan Beach, California would have been disappointed to see the top recommender on the roster depart their local Video Archives store (where weirdly Roger Avery and Daniel Snyder also worked at). Tarantino topped the tree of recommendations not just because of his depth of cinematic knowledge, but because he understood that different folks like different strokes.
That being said, there is one documentary that almost anyone would like: Hands on a Hardbody. “I wouldn’t just stick my taste on them, I would try to find out who they are,” Tarantino said about his recommendations. But there was one golden ticker to appease anyone, “it was a documentary that was done in Austin, Texas and it was called Hands On a Hard Body. I think it’s one of the greatest documentaries ever made. That was a movie where if you’re going to commit to it, you’re going to love it at the end.”
And speaking of committing to it, that is exactly what the subjects of the documentary seemed to do. Before we get into the synopsis, this film thrives in the same fashion that a lot of great documentaries do—there is a surreal sense that everyone who comes before the camera has the sole aim of making damn sure that this documentary is as entertaining as it can be even if the end result doesn’t matter to them one jot.
In Hands On a Hard Body, everyone is seizing their seconds behind the camera like Shakespearean actors working from their own wayward scripts. The premise is simple: “Twenty-four contestants compete in an endurance/sleep deprivation contest in order to win a brand new Nissan Hardbody truck. The last person to remain standing with his or her hand on the truck wins.”
A small film crew descend on this absurd annual marketing gimmick at a Texan dealership on the outskirts of Austin and capture the thrills and thoughts of the sort of folks who would do anything to win a new middle of the range pickup truck. The twist is, that the dealership has fine-tuned the task to ensure that it genuinely is a battle that is drawn out for as long as possible by giving the contestants breaks in between, turning the bonkers competition into a genuine endurance battle that tests the mind, body and soul rigorously, all for a shiny blue Honda or Nissan or whatever, the family brand is unimportant, it’s the memories along the way.
Therein you have folks who liken keeping their hand on a car with a bunch of strangers as comparable to the camaraderie that soldiers developed in the trenches. There is one man who is certain he will win if he eats nothing but Snickers bars for energy. His kryptonite, however, is lighting storms, thus, he is constantly glowering at ominous clouds throughout. There is a woman who intermittently listens to gospel music on her headphones and is so self-evidently rejuvenated that she near enough manages to convert the youngster next to her to Catholicism by proxy. Delirious laughter fits break out from fatigue, and we all learn something about the very meaning of life and purpose of being along the way.
It gets the nod of approval from Tarantino and gets five bags of popcorn from me. Beyond all the irony it is a genuine theatre of the human condition coming under the most casual microscope ever applied. Helped on no end by the small budget and college film feel that never seeks to overproduce the masterpiece, the whole thing is a hoot that Netflix have never quite come close to matching the beautiful madness of. The whole thing is more nuts than a million Snickers bars, and yet nothing is contrived, it’s just genuine folks doing their darndest to win a free motor. Thank you, rural America.