Dust To Glory

on April 01, 2005 by Tim Cogshell
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The Baja 1000 desert road rally is the subject of "Dust to Glory," a documentary by Dana Brown that's solidly in the mode of the Brown family documentaries, including the films of Dana's dad, Dan ("Endless Summer"), and his own surf film "Step Into Liquid". The Brown family has been making old-school documentaries about what are now called extreme sports, and the unique lifestyles that they spawn, for some four decades. Neither their style of filmmaking nor their ability to captivate an audience has changed in the ensuing years. There is simply something about the Brown design that's always compelling: The combination of long, languid sequences from the perspectives of the adventurers -- in this case, the drivers in a brutal off-road race in the searing desert heat --and personalized interviews with participants (some famous, most not) is a formula that works time and again.

The other prevailing characteristic of Brown documentaries is that the love of "the thing" is unabashedly the point. In "Dust to Glory," it's apparent in every frame of film that these people love this race; they live and die by its challenges -- even if the peril is somewhat exaggerated: In a time of super high-tech toys like global satellite positioning, sat-cell phones and thermal/hydro body temperature regulating racing suits -- not to mention roaming documentary film crews tagging along with helicopters -- is anyone ever really in danger? Probably not.

Overwrought moments of drama notwithstanding, "Dust to Glory" is just cool to watch. Brown shoots from every conceivable angle and location, using slow-motion to extend and enhance moments in ways that are surprisingly still effective, and a welcome change from the current wave of documentaries that are little more than platforms for filmmakers' styles and political agendas. Here the style is simplicity and the agenda nothing more than the love of the thing. Starring Mario Andretti, Sal Fish, James Garner, Ricky Johnson, Chad McQueen and Steven McQueen. Directed and written by Dana Brown. Produced by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh. A IFC release. Documentary. Rated PG for racing action and peril, and for some language. Running time: 97 min

Tags: Mario Andretti, Sal Fish, James Garner, Ricky Johnson, Chad McQueen, Steven McQueen, Dana Brown, Produced by Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh, A IFC release, Documentary, love, captivate, adventurers, desert heat, exaggerated
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