TT3D: Closer to the Edge, 2011.
Narrated by Jared Leto.
A documentary about the Isle of Man’s famed TT motorcycle race.
For those that are unfamiliar with the Isle of Man and its world famous TT races let me assure you it’s thrilling, frightening and very dangerous. The small Isle sits in the middle of the Irish Sea and is home to around 80,000 Manxmen on an average day, but swells to almost double that figure for a fortnight in early summer. The TT is the worlds most famous motorcycle road race and takes place over a 38 mile circuit that snakes through towns and villages, passes usually quiet country pubs and across the top of several mountains. Unlike your average racing there are no run off areas, no safety barriers and no mercy for anyone who dares to take the challenging course too lightly. Straw bails are the only protection from garden walls, lampposts and possible death.
Beside road racing and the associated tourism the Isle of Man has another main source of income – film. The island is home to a large number of film making facilities and has pretty enticing incentives for filmmakers to shoot on the island. So – it was inevitable that at some point somebody would put the two together. My own personal fear was that the outcome would be a cheap British version of Days Of Thunder on two wheels. How could anyone get across the danger faced, bravery needed and personal stories of the hundreds of riders who pull on their leathers each year to attack the notoriously risky course? What about telling the story of those who had lost their lives on the merciless course? They say that fact is often weirder than fiction. And the true stories documented within TT3D is testament to that.
Richard De Aragues, who has earned a living from directing TV adverts, makes his feature film debut with this documentary. The film follows the stories of several riders over the course of the two week race meeting with the larger than life character of Guy Martin as it’s main character. Guy is a popular rider who lives for the rush of hurtling through country roads at up to 200 mph, but has never won a race at the TT. Also featured are the fastest man around the course and 15 time winner John McGuinness, local lad Connor Cummins hoping to gain his first win and talented rider Ian Hutchinson. Each of them committed to pushing themselves to their limits in order to win one of the 5 races.
Closer To The Edge brings the splendour and danger of the TT to the world and makes clear what it is at risk and also on offer for TT riders. Guy Martin is a lovable and eccentric character who, with a cup of tea in his hand, always seems to have something interesting to say whether it be about bikes or masturbation. Racing is clearly his life and the lengths to which Guy is willing to push himself are clearly on the edge of danger and would have a lesser man quaking in his boots. Guy is not pretentious, not too proud and not even a model professional the majority of the time. He just wants to race. When TT legend John McGuiness goes back to his huge gold motor home at the end of a days racing Guy martin sleeps on a mattress in the back of his transit. He isn’t worried about he trappings of fame, fortune or glory and brings a genuinely admirable touch of the human spirit to a race that is most certainly out of the ordinary.
Along side the stories of guts, glory and breaking records there is also that of the loss of life. Paul Dobbs was unfortunate to lose his life at the 2010 TT and his widow reflects on life after the racing with her two young sons. Anyone who has lost someone to the mountain course will surely be touched by their story. There are no worse words to hear at the Isle of Man than someone is ‘missing on the road’ and then the wait to find out if the problem has been simply mechanical or an accident.
The film also talks to John McGuiness and his wife on their thoughts of the TT, discusses with Ian Hutchinson how he prepares for the Isle and gets plenty of short stories and thoughts from other riders, officials, marshals, regulars to the racing and first timers. The footage of the racing has been captured beautifully.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed the film from start to finish I did have my questions. I wasn’t entirely sure why American actor and musician Jared Leto was chosen for the infrequent voiceover since Americans aren’t heavily associated with the racing. Perhaps he likes bikes? Or has been to the racing? But I know not the answer why. The film also did feel a little like one long TV advert at times. When Ian Hutchison is training in the gym he could have easily stopped, turned to the camera and told us what energy drink he uses to get the job done. And I may have gone out and bought one. Following Guy Martin around a lap of the course a huge logo for any brand of motorcycle could have easily sprung onto the screen. Clearly Mr De Aragues’ day job has filtered into his style of shooting. Also the use of 3D nine times out of ten added little or nothing to the film, but it was clear that certain camera shots and angles were chosen to emphasise its use. Perhaps Mr Aragues managed to make his deal with Cinema NX on the premise of it being their first or flagship 3D film and advertise their capabilities with the new technology?
However, it’s only in reflection I can pick any sort of whole in the film. Sat glued to my seat my heart raced with the breath taking speed of the bikes and the guessing as to whether or not a rider is still upright or missing on the road. TT3D: Closer To The Edge took me back to my own childhood on the Isle watching my own father race, tinker with his bike and talk of at what points the bike felt good or bad. I remembered vividly being 14 and riding my own 50cc bike around the paddock taking his helmet to be cleaned and collecting practice time sheets. I also remembered those we lost, the feeling of hearing someone was missing on the road and the moment the news came that they had not survived. It’s been 13 years since I last visited the Isle of Man but I can still smell the exhaust fumes in the air. I can still feel the rush of the bikes as they pass at 200 mph. I can still feel the memory of every rider to ever set off down Bray Hill etched into the course, the island and the history of the TT races whether they won or lost.
TT3D is a magnificent monument to those men and women who have lived and died on the Isle of Man. Thank you Mr De Aragues for such a touching tribute.