For some the question will always be – why ride a bike at up to 200mph on public roads at a circuit that has claimed over 200 lives? To the men who race The Island, that question has to be recast – for them, it’s why not?
In Richard de Aragues’ dazzling documentary, TT3D – Closer to the Edge, we spend 100 minutes up close and personal with those who live, and die, for The Island. There’s some nice contextualising grainy black and white film (with George Formby on the soundtrack) and a poignant tribute to Joey and Robert, but in documentary, casting is everything, and this is as much Guy Martin’s film as Taxi Driver was Robert de Niro’s.
We first meet him in the day job, fiddling about under a lorry, hands blackened with oil, signature hair and sideburns as unkempt as ever, telling us how he doesn’t really like boozing or shagging, preferring bikes and engines. With the flat vowels of the flat lands of Lincolnshire, he is a natural storyteller, an autodidact and born to be in front of a camera – he is the heir of Fred Dibnah and will never want for work in television. Whether incandescent with rage after a penalty for a minor infraction cost him his place on the TT podium, sleeping in his van or signing autographs instead of hurrying to the start line, Martin fills the screen with his extraordinary head and his even more extraordinary personality. He has the charisma of a Rossi, but doesn’t know it, and competes in a format of motorsport about as non-corporate as Formula One is corporate. How can you not love him?
There are cameos from other racers and those connected to The Island: the marshal welling up describing the friends he has made, and lost, over fifty years of fortnightly service; the engine tuner who compares himself to a drug-dealer, sending his boys out with the means of their demise; the flint-eyed 2010 multi-winner Ian Hutchinson seeking that 1% advantage in the gym; old pro John McGuiness wondering whether to call it a day; and, in a beautifully judged film within a film, a portrait of Bridget Dobbs, left behind after a crash claimed the life of her husband, New Zealander Paul Dobbs.
Whether mixing helicopter shots with onboard pictures of the racing or capturing moments like Guy being refused entry to the paddock for want of a pass, borrowing one from a passing fan, using it to go through the gate, before returning it to the fan through the wire fence, Beverley Mills’ editing is inspired, showing her years of experience. The film’s HD format works spectacularly well, though the 3D aspect adds little – how could it, with the Manx scenery and bikes constantly in shot?
There’s no happy ending – this is the world of Hailwood not Hollywood – but, though some of our heroes are bashed up pretty badly, they all live to race another day. They know what they are doing and the price it can exact; they know that it won’t just be their life that is left on the tarmac or down the side of a grassy bank; but they know that this is the price they pay to be truly alive – and the rest of us can only look on in wonder at the men, women and Island, captured perfectly by this wonderful film.
Click to read my post written on the occasion of the TT’s centenary.