Far more than just fan fodder
THE best documentaries not only draw their subjects in fine detail, they also draw the fascination and respect of viewers who could not have cared less about those subjects before. Take brilliant new doco Senna as a case in point.
Even if you have no knowledge of Formula One motor racing – let alone a passing interest – the film still captivates, informs and connects in a remarkable way.
This is one of the few sports-themed profiles worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the untouchable Muhammad Ali doco When We Were Kings.
In spite of Ayrton Senna’s short life – it is no spoiler to make mention of his death at 34 during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix – the filmmakers have an immense amount of territory to cover. Much of this is because of the complex make-up of Senna the man.
The Brazilian ace was a curiously organised collection of contradictions, all of which worked together to make him the complete driver. And arguably marked him as fated for an early exit from this world.
To his peers on the track, Senna in full flight provoked equal parts awe and angst.
He could see – and travel through – gaps in race traffic that most would not classify as gaps. Intentional contact between vehicles? Not a problem. Not even at 300km/ h.
Senna was a hopeless romantic when it came to being the best driver in the world.
However, the political nous needed to stay on the right side of F1 officialdom cost him many grands prix and at least one drivers’ championship.
Though he was a devil for the high life away from F1, behind the wheel he truly believed ( as he controversially stated after a landmark victory) ‘‘ God is beside me when I drive’’.
As a contrast to the heroic light in which Senna is portrayed, much is made in the doco of his fierce rivalry with French champion Alain Prost.
While he is depicted as a scheming pragmatist up against Senna’s creative genius, Prost’s contributions to the film are generous, open and telling.
Considering we all know how the documentary will end, the final act of Senna is still gripping and moving viewing.
Plaudits must go to British director Asif Kapadia and his team for the job they have done. Not only did they get Senna’s amazing life story right, but they also steered away from the standard shortcuts so many sports docos inevitably take.