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Review: Senna by Asif Kapadia

Jeff Glucker May 1, 2012 Hoonivercinema, Reviews 15 Comments

I was in seat 10E. An aisle seat on a Delta airplane that was traveling from Atlanta to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. I had just finished driving the 2013 Infiniti JX35, and I was ready to settle in for the long haul as the twin CFM International engines prepared to do battle with the winds from the west. Typically, I have trouble sleeping on any flight but this flight I planned on staying up anyway. In my hands was my iPad, in my ears were my Shure SE315 headphones, and on my screen was an icon that was simply titled Senna.

Released initially in 2010, Senna has slowly made its way on screens both big and small around the globe. This documentary is the work of director Asif Kapadia and writer Manish Pandey, and the two have been racking up award wins and nominations at seemingly every award event around the world. It was time for me to grab a copy on iTunes and watch it for myself.

Senna was put together by combing through any and all footage the filmmakers could get their hands on. There are no modern shots of those speaking about Ayrton, but rather voiceovers by those who were a part of his life. The footage is raw at times, as it ranges from old home movies of Senna both as a kid with a go-kart, and a man driving his hard-earned boat through the waters in and around his native Brazil. Of course, as Senna rises through the ranks towards Formula One dominance, the available material rises with him.

Kapadia and Pandey show the world that Senna was a man who had but one focus when he strapped himself into his machine. He didn’t simply hope for a win, he had to win so that he could feel complete in life. The film shows the difference between Senna and rival Alain Prost quite clearly, and at times makes Prost out to be somewhat of a villain. Still, the film balances that out by showing the darker side of Senna’s own tunnel-vision focus.

As my Boeing 737 rushes through the night sky, the film begins to rush by as well, and I notice that I am nearing the end. Not just the end of Senna, but the end of … Senna. There is no surprise ending to this movie, and we all know what happened at Imola’s San Marino Grand Prix on May 1st, 1994. Hell, we all know the name of the corner. Still, the accident hits me like a ton of bricks, and I’m glad the plane is dark and my single-serving friend to my right is fast asleep. Clearly, the cabin filtration system is working poorly, because dust got in my eyes.

Despite knowing that scene was rapidly approaching, Kapadia handled it well. He added drama to dramatic footage that has been seen countless times by countless folks. It wasn’t just the loss of Ayrton that triggers emotions either, but the reactions of those in the sport and back home in Senna’s homeland. Ayrton Senna was far more than a skilled racing driver to the people of Brazil. He was a national icon, a hero, and a shining beacon of hope in a country where very little of that existed.

Today is the 18th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death. You should go watch the film, not to be reminded of that, but to learn more about the man, and remember the good that came with the bad.

Bonus clip: the always-excellent footage of Senna making loafers and white socks look cool…

  • Hey, he is heel-toeing an NSX! Bonus bonus!

    While this was on instant play on Netflix, I decided to wait for the DVD. It was fantastic, even if my wife asked why I was weepy after watching it.

  • Savant_Idiot

    The man was other-worldly behind the wheel.

    R.I.P Ayrton.

  • acarr260

    I don't care who is around me, every time I watch his last lap, I openly weep.
    Such a tragic loss.
    RIP, Ayrton

  • Marcal

    Senna was far from a perfect man, but MAN what a talent.

  • I have no clue if any of what I heard was true but back in the day, way back, not long after Senna died I saw or heard a story about Senna. Again, no clue if it was true but for some reason the story sticks in my mind.

    "A photographer was snapping shots at a difficult corner during practice. Every driver came through and could be heard letting off and shifting down before going through the corner. Senna came through, never let up and never down shifted. Later the photographer was walking through the pits, spotted Senna and mentioned to Senna that he was the only one who took that turn flat out. Senna just responded. "Oh, ya, I saw you behind the wall snapping photos.""

    Even if it is a total BS story that my own mind conjured up….I could totally see this occurring. Flat out and still able to observe everything around him.

  • Also, this clip is very well done:

    [youtube 4oLSYSJO5Ik youtube]

    • Marcal

      Thanks for sharing.

    • RegalRegalia

      There was some footage in that bit of TG that didn't make Senna (the film) that should have. I can't believe I'd never seen this, thanks for the share. With the so much focus on his death in the film, I think this makes a better tribute.
      And seeing Hamilton's giddiness, that's priceless.

  • If you haven't seen it, you need to.

    Also, I may have an extra copy of Senna on DVD waiting for this year's Hooniversal Ninja Claus festivities.

    • I recently acquired a signed copy (by the director) of the movie poster that is at the framers… that is NOT going into the Ninja Claus box though.

  • Marcal

    Senna is available on Netflix, for what it's worth.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Senna was a monumental talent. But I wonder if some of the reverence for him isn't tied to the fact that he was pretty much the last top level F1 driver to die? It used to be a rare season where 2-3 drivers didn't die, and others were laid up with devastating, crippling injuries. The cars and safety systems are so advanced now that people are hitting walls at 200 mph and walking away from the wreck. Racing used to be a genuine bloodsport, and it's amazing how the risk has rapidly declined, even as the performance thresholds increase.

    • Lebowski

      While I agree that F1 is far safer than it used to be, we shouldn't get complacent. Massa's head injury, as well as the death of a steward at Melbourne from a tyre a few years ago, demonstrate that there is still work to be done in terms of safety. That being said, the cars and tracks are very, very safe these days. All credit to Sir Jackie and Syd – they had the guts, the outrage and the respect to push the sport to make necessary decisions. I do think it is an immense shame that their achievements haven't been replicated across other motorsports – rally racing is still hideously dangerous and many other competitions (Nascar and the montoya jet car collision comes to mind) have a lot of work to do.

  • RegalRegalia

    So despite a drunk comment that may have left a bad taste in your collective mouths about my opinions on late 80s/early 90s Japanese hatches, may I request a Redusernab Asks: Which was the best season/era/driver of F1, an F1 week, or a series of the history of F1 by our own resident historian and fundamental badass Scroggzilla. (Also, doesn't Scoggz run his own blog on vintage racing? I can't remember if he does or what the hell the URL is.)

  • BGW

    And from the Oh, What Could Have Been Department, we have Senna testing a Penske IndyCar in 1992.

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