Dust to Glory
Directed by Dana Brown. Narrated by Dana Brown. (2005, PG, 97 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 29, 2005
The thrill of racing is hard to capture on film: The confines of the screen always make the contests seem smaller and less turbocharged than they are in reality. Dana Brown seems a more likely candidate than most to coax the adrenaline onto the screen, considering the success of his previous documentary Step Into Liquid about the sport of surfing. (Brown, the son of The Endless Summer documentarian Bruce Brown, may be genetically predisposed to this kind of man-against-himself-and-the-elements kind of sports filmmaking.) However, things do not go as well for Brown in his move from water to land. Dust to Glory is a total hodge-podge of relatively random footage from the Baja 1000, the longest off-road race in the world. Contestants compete in a variety of categories: motobikes, trophy trucks, autos, unmodified old VW Beetles, and so on. The ruggedness of the vehicles is reflected in the ruggedness of the (mostly) male participants, although the contest rules are loose enough to allow the cars to be held together with giant Twist-ties if the need arises. The competition here seems to be more between the driver and the track than among the drivers themselves, with the goal of finishing ranking nearly as high as winning. Brown talks to many of the annual returnees to the event, some of whom recount wild tales from the race’s early years in the Sixties – before helicopters observed from above and Baja was quite as developed as it is now. All seem to be entranced with the mythology of the event, and an added bonus is the first-time appearance of Mario Andretti at the Baja 1000. The film has plenty of "eat my dust" moments, too, but since so much of the track is driven in solitary rather than a pack, those moments lose some of their grit. Despite the action, Dust to Glory is an unfocused project, seeming as though a script was constructed to reflect the footage captured, rather than emerging organically and reflectively from what was observed. It’s similar to an IMAX movie in the way it strives for gulps in the throat and "oohs" from seasick viewers. Dust to Glory may be a gearhead’s delight, but its appeal to middle-of-the-roaders will be stop-and-go.