Director Ron Howard, a.k.a. Richie Cunningham, a.k.a. Opie, announced this week that his movie about the 1976 Formula One Grand Prix season entitled "Rush" will premiere in September of next year.
The movie's focus is the battle during the 1976 season between James Hunt and Niki Lauda for the world driving championship after Lauda was nearly killed in a crash and fire at the Nurburgring. Lauda's amazing will to live and his return to the cockpit, after which he nearly won the title, is the basis of the plot.
Here's a short video about the film, sent to me by my friend, Rick Morris. I'm getting excited already.
When I read that the film will be out a year from September, I immediately wondered if it might possibly make its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, as the documentary "Senna" did a few years ago. Naturally, I contacted my Entertainment department colleagues here at the Star, Peter Howell and Linda Barnard, who do a wonderful job reviewing films and know all about TIFF and movies in general.
Replied Howell: "I think it unlikely TIFF would have it. Ron Howard isn't a festival guy. I don't think he's ever had a film at TIFF, or any festival for that matter."
Added Barnard: "Interesting, but we won’t know until this time next year (sounds like a movie title!)
Okay, if not at TIFF, "Rush" will still open in Toronto in September '13 and the first thing that hit me about it was the title: what does "Rush" have to do with car racing?
Greater minds than mine make these decisions but movie titles are just like book titles. You would think the title would tell you what the book is about, wouldn't you? I have a friend, Alec Ross, who paddled a canoe across Canada. He wrote a book about it. The title? "Coke Stop At Emo." I don't think it sold a lot. Same thing with "Rush." I can think of a lot of things when I read or hear the word "Rush," but auto racing ain't one of them.
Whatever, I wish Howard and the movie luck. It's about time we got a good movie about racing (presuming this one will be good). There hasn't been a good one produced since 1967 when "Grand Prix" came out. That's a lot of time between cinematic pit stops.
A few years ago, I wrote a column about racing movies I have at home - the good ones and the turkeys. Here are a few excerpts from that column; turkeys first.
"Stroker Ace," (1983) was with Burt Reynolds and Jim Nabors, "Days of Thunder," (1990) starred Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall, and "Driven," (2001) featured Sylvester Stallone and B. Reynolds (yes, him again).
All three were truly awful.
"Stroker Ace" was based on a hilarious book, Stand On It, by William Neely and Robert Ottum, which was a satire on all things auto racing. Reynolds and Nabors ignored the satire and went for the cheap laughs and the movie was a bomb, as a result.
"Days of Thunder" was a wasted opportunity. NASCAR opened itself up to the stars and the producers and what could have been a wonderful movie makes you cringe half the time.
And "Driven?" When Stallone couldn't suck Bernie Ecclestone into letting him build a film around F1, he turned to CART and the finished product illustrates perfectly why Bernie is such a genius.
I was at the Toronto premiere at the Yonge and Eglinton Silver City and when it got to the part where the hero turns his car around and starts driving the wrong way on the track to go rescue a guy who'd just crashed, I swear that everybody in the theatre wanted to crawl under their seats.
Those were the awful ones. Here are a couple close-to-awful:
"Heart Like a Wheel" (1983), with Bonnie Bedelia and Beau Bridges, is the story of Shirley Muldowney and her fight to make it in the man's world of drag racing. It's so-so. The song, which wasn't about racing, is still better.
"Bobby Deerfield" (1977), with Al Pacino, has its moments but, for the most part, is a boring art film. If you like the camera gazing into Pacino's eyes while he, a) looks at where he's going, b) looks at a woman, c) looks at a menu, then this film's for you. Me? I fell asleep.
Okay, I can hear some of you saying it: What about "Le Mans," with Steve McQueen? I'll tell you what turned me against that movie, which was released in 1971. There's a line that McQueen recites that goes something like this:
"Racing is life, the rest is just waiting." That's a pretty good line. The problem with it is that it's stolen.
The late Karl Wallenda of the Flying Wallendas tightrope act said the same thing, only 10 years earlier: "To be on the wire is life, the rest is just waiting."
So I was enjoying "Le Mans" until I heard that line and it just put me right off.
Here's why I like the movie "Winning," which leads off my list of pretty good racing movies: It got Paul Newman interested in auto racing.
Prior to making that film, he knew next-to-nothing about the sport. But filming it turned him into a fan and then a racer himself and the sport was so much better off because of his involvement.
Co-starring Joanne Woodward and Robert Wagner, the story is fun and the racing scenes are excellent. A moment that's magical is when Newman drives his road car around the big speedway at Indianapolis and maintenance people and others at work in the infield wave his way.
There's a huge pileup at the start of the Indy 500 (footage from the actual first-lap wreck in 1966 is used) and Newman is shown sitting in his car after the dust settles, eating ice cream while he waits for the restart and we hear his heart beating a million miles an hour.
This is poetic licence at work: immediately following the real wreck in '66, TV cameras caught driver Arnie Knepper tucking into a sandwich, moments after a wheel came so close to hitting him in the head that it left a tire mark on his helmet. I suspect Arnie's heart wasn't beating fast. Some of those old timers had ice water in their veins.
The special-effects photography plus the gripping musical score are what make "Grand Prix" (1966) a joy. Director John Frankenheimer's masterpiece is best seen in Cinerama in a movie theatre with stereo surround sound - but hey, you can't have everything.
The cast is near-perfect and the "race drivers" (James Garner, Yves Montand (left), Antonio Sabato and Brian Bedford) look more like race drivers than real race drivers do (Graham Hill, Richie Ginther, Jo Bonnier, Jochen Rindt and others from that era can be seen lurking in the background).
The women (Eva Marie Saint, Jessica Walter and Francoise Hardy) keep the heat turned up, too.
An old movie that I love and watch at least twice a year is "To Please a Lady" (1950), with Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck. Gable is a post-World War II midget racer; she's a crusading newspaper columnist who attacks racing as a blood sport. It's good stuff and if you've never seen it, it's available on DVD.
An incredible moment comes in mid-movie when he confronts her about her columns. When she gives him some lip, he slaps her across the face. You don't see this scene when the film's on TV these days. It's been cut out, probably because Stanwyck doesn't appear to be too put off about it.
Five more to tell you about:
"The Crowd Roars" (1932) stars James Cagney and Joan Blondell. Cagney is a successful driver who cavorts with a succession of available women (hey, it's every man's fantasy) but worries that his younger brother will try to follow in his footsteps and wind up in the Marble Orchard (what old-time drivers used to call the cemetery).
"The Roar of the Crowd" (1953) stars Howard Duff and is a hoot because it's done in flashbacks while he's driving in the Indy 500. Some of these old racing movies are a stretch at the best of times but when you've got a guy daydreaming at 140 miles an hour, it's too much.
"Indianapolis Speedway" (1939) stars Pat O'Brien and Ann Sheridan. All the wives of the drivers wear fur coats. Enough said.
"The Big Wheel" (1949) stars Mickey Rooney and Mary Hatcher. Against his mother's wishes, Mickey wants to go racing to clear his old man's name(too complicated to go into here). Doesn't win the Indy 500 but they give him the Borg-Warner Trophy anyway (you have to be there).
I was 7 years old when I first saw it; when I bought the DVD recently, it was pretty much as I remembered it. One surprising nugget: there's a reference in that movie to my Oswego Speedway - famous, even back then.
"The Racers" (1955). Kirk Douglas is an American trying to break into the European sports car circuit in the 1950s. His manager (Lee J. Cobb) wears a fedora in Monaco in May (what is with these people?). The death scene starring Gilbert Roland, after he's been thrown out of his car, is priceless.
It's 8:30 p.m. Sunday night as I write this and the Daytona Beach Dopler Radar shows no rain falling or expected in the immediate future and I suggest the reason they pulled the plug on the Daytona 500 for the first time in recorded history is not because it would too late to race but because of the Academy Awards.
Let me give you the background first. Then I'll explain my theory.
Persistent rain in the Daytona Beach area forced NASCAR to postpone the 500 from its scheduled 1 p.m. starting time. Shortly after 5 p.m., it was announced out of the blue that, for the first time in its 54 years, the race was being cancelled and would be held Monday, starting at noon.
But what if it had cleared up? Don't they have lights at Daytona? Even if it was 9 p.m. or so, couldn't they have gotten it in?
Maybe they could have, but there were other forces at work here.
NASCAR likes to tell everybody that more than a third of its audience is women. Which is true, because men like to drag their wives and girlfriends to the speedway or have them with them when they watch the races on television.
But I have noticed - and I am a keen observer of the human condition - that unlike men, every few (if any) women actually go to the race tracks by themselves, or with a friend. They are usually with their men or their families. Along the same lines, I would be very surprised if any more than one or two women actually sit home by themselves on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon to watch NASCAR, or NFL football or Ultimate Fighting. If truth be told, they watch because their men friends want them to.
So women watch car racing, or whatever, as a mating or family activity. Fair enough. I know men who go shopping with their wives, or to the opera, just so their wives will go fishing with them. It's the way of the world.
Sunday afternoon, as the rain continued, NASCAR realized it had a problem. Never mind the delay of the race, because they would be able to get that going whenever. The problem was that when they did, would anybody be watching?
The Academy Awards were scheduled Sunday evening and coverage started at 6 p.m. with what's called the Red Carpet. The Red Carpet is really a fashion show. It is primarily for women. The first question anybody asks the female movie stars is, "who are you wearing?" It is a time when women are watching and men are out buying Chinese food or Kentucky Fried Chicken for the family to eat in front of the TV.
So NASCAR knew that if the race had started at 1 p.m. like it was supposed to, it would have been over in time for the Oscars. But otherwise, it would be game over at 6 p.m. when all the wives in North America would say to their boyfriends and husbands, "I don't care if (take your pick: Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, A.J. Allmendinger, etc.) is winning, I want to know who designed Gwyneth Paltrow's dress."
Which is why NASCAR, wisely, decided to pull the plug on the Daytona 500.
Better to have lower ratings on Monday when everybody is working than to get killed in the ratings on Sunday night when they put their car race up against the Oscars.