Richard de Aragues, 2011
A couple of months ago the BBC broadcast a documentary about 'the killer years' of Formula 1 (here's a link to the first part on youtube). It documents how, in the 1960s and 70s, drivers were frequently killed in racing incidents. Their cars were fast but flimsy, easily breaking into pieces - which could then fly into the cockpit - or bursting into flames. The tracks were lined with trees and walls - rather than gravel run-off for a more gentle stop - and haybales, leading to spectacular inflagrations. The drivers lacked the fireproof suits and head-and-neck-support systems which nowadays prevent them from burning alive and snapping their spines respectively. F1 now has far fewer sickening moments and even fewer serious injuries. No-one's died in a crash since 1994, the year Ayrton Senna - the subject of a documentary opening on 3 June - was killed in San Marino.
The same cannot be said for motorcycle racing. Its competitors are prone to being flung from their vehicles - occasionally into the path of their competitors - and lack a surrounding chassis to absorb impact energy. Most track motorcycle races are, however, held on circuits with similar safety features to those used in F1: Armco crash barriers, tyre walls, long run-off areas at corners. No such luxuries for those who race for the Isle of Man tourist trophies every June, though. This circuit round the roads of the island is lined with the features of everyday driving - houses, walls, lampposts - but the top racers average 130mph round the circuit, hitting 200 plus on the straights.
Shot in the lead up to the 2010 Isle of Man racing festival, the movie culminates with tense footage from the five main races of the weekend. The hero of sorts is Guy Martin, a straight-talking northern mechanic who loves fixing lorries, masturbating and, most of all, racing motorbikes. He's like a two-wheeled Karl Pilkington (a thought I was dismayed to discover wasn't an original one), with probably more self-awareness than he lets on but plenty of charisma and casual confidence in his singular worldview. Before 2010, he's had podium (top three) finishes in several TTs but hasn't won one - he's determined to put that right this year.
Since I had no idea what happened at the 2010 TT before I went to see this film, I found it as exciting and suspenseful as watching the action live would be. I'd strongly recommend anyone thinking of seeing it to do so without researching the results beforehand. Guy Martin is not the only rider the film-makers interviewed; there are many others, and the tension comes not only from wondering whether the riders you've met will win, but whether they'll survive - intact or otherwise. It's not giving much away to say that one or two of the later interviews' subjects are filmed talking from their hospital beds.
Closer to the Edge has a perfectly-balanced combination of race footage, backstage events and personal stories. Run by enthusiasts, populated by amateur riders and providing nail-biting thrills for spectators, the TT was so well showcased by this film that I'm now wondering how best to make it over to watch next year's in person.