Those who've listened to my podcast with Alfred Schulz on The King of Kong will know that I actively seek out documentaries on subjects that I know and/or care next to nothing about. I like to be exposed to new worlds I never thought I'd have any interest in. And so I couldn't wait to watch Asif Kapadia's auto-racing doc Senna. Not only do I not care about auto racing; not only do I know nothing about cars; not only have I never driven a car (not counting that one time an ex tried to teach me); but I have no desire to either learn about or begin to give a shit about anything car-related. Hell, I'd never even heard of the man Ayrton Senna—widely regarded as the best Formula 1 racer who's ever lived—until I heard of this movie. So Senna seemed a good choice to change my views.
And although I can't say as I've come around to the auto racing ways, this was certainly a couple hours well spent. Composed entirely of archival footage (any interviews are heard and not seen), Senna has the feel of a fiction film—albeit one composed on eighties video. And it is never less than riveting.
Kapadia expertly weaves a car-racing story for the uninitiated. Meaning, you don't gotta know shit about the subject to become enthralled by the minutiae of the sport. The fact that Senna once had to finish the last six laps of a race while stuck in sixth gear meant little to my car-ignorant brain; but seeing as the strain on Senna's body left his shoulders and neck so sore that he could not even be touched afterward sure as shit conveyed to me this man's passion for his sport. Also, who'd a thunk car racing could be so physical?
Riveting as the car chases and competitive duel with hated French driver Prost are, Senna is also a surprisingly moving film (translation: I cried a bunch at the end of the movie). It's an extraordinarily relatable tale. Anyone driven (pun maybe intended) to achieve greatness in a particular artistic or professional or what-have-you endeavor will find a compatriot in Senna—a man disgusted with the back-room politicking necessary for success in his field, a man driven (there's that word again) only by his love of the game.