Category: Story Pile

Here’s where you’ll find the blog entries that are about examining – specifically – TV, movies, and other forms of participatory media that interest me. This is the space you’re going to find talk of characters in TV shows, or specific moments in greater narratives, or why you might want to watch a particular show or why I love – or hate! – a particular movie.

Story Pile: Silent Hill Revelations 3D

The actual review of this movie is very short: It isn’t very good. The story doesn’t do anything to hold itself together very well. There are numerous points where the assumed truths of the story are changed, and you have to invent motivations to explain why characters behave the way they do. Kit Harington is in it. There’s a pretty cool spider made of mannequin bits. The 3d is absolutely unnecessary, now. I do not recommend this movie.

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Story Pile: The Vault

Conventional visions of horror are about taking the familiar, and adding the unfamiliar. There’s a reason so many horror settings since the 1970s have been focused on the suburban and the conventional being transformed into something dreadful and horrible – and the reason the slashers and monsters in movies so often represent things that we already contend with all the time now anyway. In The Stuff, the horror is the invisible consumption of food culture, in Friday the 13th, it’s the failure of the suburban space to make us safe, and in Camp Crystal Lake Chronicles: Zombie Boy Versus The Sex Havers, the horror is about being punished by adults for arbitary idiocy that has nothing to do with you and them making their emotional damage your problem.

The root, therefore, of modern horror movies, is about things we find relatable, and as the genre has progressed, it’s only a matter of time before you come across a horror movie where the thing it’s infiltrating is another, different type of movie.

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Story Pile: Pentagon Wars

Two young fish are swimming along. An older fish swims past them and says ‘hey, kids. the water’s nice today.’ and swims on.

a few minutes later, one of the younger fish looks to the other and says: ‘what’s water?’


Normally there’s a fairly healthy turnaround time on Story Pile posts. I tend to like taking my time on them, and there’s also a sort of queue effect, where a movie or book or tv series will get watched while I do other things, then when I reach the end I’ll spend some time ruminating on my opinion on it before I ever write about it.

This, I watched last night.

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Story Pile: Coconut Telegraph

Sure, we’re bumping at the edges of the month, but trust me: There’s no Jimmy Buffett album that’s got anything fun to say on Pride Month. And this is going to be the last of our Boats to Build articles – at least unless I really regret it and extend my examination one extra album, for later.

The albums of Jimmy’s I listened to were the albums my dad’s music collection; the records he owned, on vinyl, and when we moved and I grew up, they were just there. In the church environment, dad couldn’t readily add music to his collection – certainly not vinyl, with his new fangled, impressive CD player that lived in the corner of the living room like a big black box of impressive technical doom.

I try not to think too much about it. Dad didn’t buy more Jimmy Buffet albums after this one – and this album landed smack between my sister’s birth, and mine. It might be that dad felt there was a massive dip between this album and the next… or maybe, being a father of two and looking for work that could support that while trying to contribute to church meant that these were the first costs that got cut.

In a way this selection of albums that all predate my birth but were endlessly replayed as I grew up are part of the foundation of who I am, a reminder that no matter how millenial I am, I’m grappling with being a product of cultures of lies that give me conflicting, meaningless insights into who they think people can be. It’s up to me to pull these pieces together – or discarding them! – and seeing what I can find.

This album has both one of my favourite Jimmy songs, and one of my least liked Jimmy songs.

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Story Pile: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Trixie

Ha ha, see, check that out, it’s right there in the subject.

That’s a lotta colons tho’.

Okay, Friendship is Magic was – yes, was – a kid’s cartoon show that started airing in 2010 and finished up last year, which got to be a wonderful field research test sample for studies about fandom evolution, masculine toxicity, pornography, corporate branding, and defensive misogyny, about ponies. It wasn’t just a show, it was a cultural movement. It could be used to talk about fanagement or anon media spaces or maturation out of extremism or even the way the manosphere attempts to culturally colonialise everything.

Or you could use it to talk about a dumb standard story trope.

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Story Pile: The King of Thieves

I love a good heist movie.

There are a lot of different ways to treat a heist, in a movie. There’s your Ocean’s Eleven, where the whole thing is conducted with a sort of elegant smoothness, where there’s some clear outcome, a magic trick of a conclusion and you’re just weaving the narrative around that point. There’s a ride to it, a certain gentle sleight of hand. They’re kind of spectacle heists, where the question is how it all looks in motion, like Michael Caine’s The Italian Job.

Then there’s the tense ones, the heists that are about backstabbing and misdirection and the carnage that ensues when something goes wrong and how crime is fundamentally and foundationally an example of a failure of trust, in society and in one another, like Michael Caine’s Get Carter.

Here’s Michael Caine’s The King of Thieves.

The basic plot of the movie is an inspired-by-history real world heist; the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Burglary, which holds the record as probably the highest-value heist in British history, with a net value of something approaching £200 million being lifted in cash and jewels. It was one of those crimes where the numbers are extremely hard to pin down, because insurance and assessment and privacy and disclosure were all involved. The real world events are kind of tailor made for a movie, and even tailor made for this movie.

See, what happened is that a collection of old thieves, in their sixties and seventies, hit a target that was generally recognised as being untouchable; it’s a safety deposit box facility in the centre of the UK jewel trade, and obscurity is part of its security. It was something of a white whale for them, to hear the telling – a target they never tried, and they’d even in varying stages, retired from crime, only to give the deposit one last shot in their twilight years. They made one of the biggest scores of all time, then had a hard time moving the goods properly, because their criminal contacts included people who’d been previously pinched and were under police surveillance. Eventually, all the older thieves were pinched and a young accomplice got away.

The movie, then, takes this real world sequence of historical events, massages them extensively, and hands the roles of criminals who used to be threatening, in charge criminals back during the 1970s to a group of actors who themselves set the tone for what a gangster in a movie looked like, and also Charlie Cox, who, no lies, is pretty good in his position as ‘the one young person.’

A little detail about it – which isn’t really super important, but it’s still there – is that the way this movie treats police. Typically, when the investigation of a crime begins in movies, it introduces a character to be the incarnation of the investigation – a tradition that reaches back centuries. Dogged investigators that can be the voice of the very task of getting to the bottom of the crime. In this, though? There is no single police person that’s at the root of the investigation. It’s shown as being the work of dozens of people, doing lots of different, specialised jobs, bit by bit, working together and helping one another in a coalition of different races and genders. That cooperating, collaborative group are, uh, cops in a surveillance state. So that’s… not… super cool. Weird.

The movie didn’t do well. It was seen as lacking in punch or style – it wasn’t cool enough or funny enough or dramatic enough or historically precise enough. You can watch it on Netflix, and you may get the feeling you’re watching three movies snapped together awkwardly. The opening is a very old dogs-new-tricks kind of narrative where these characters rouse themselves from a quiet end to do one last score that they honestly probably do need to do, because the life they put together isn’t even giving them dignity in its end. Then there’s an actual heist movie, which is as much about showing how a complicated technical task can be done with a variety of holdups and failures, and how some of those failures are actually dealt with, and what that looks like (and how absurd that can be). Then, the movie becomes a socially jarring failure – a failure that, if you were mapping the story to a story you had more control over, you might make more dramatic, more cool, or more classy. It wouldn’t turn into a bunch of old men shouting at one another over bitter, ancient grudges. It wouldn’t end with them all getting caught and the least notable character getting away.

It ends with four senior actors who helped shape our culture’s vision of these moments, sitting in the dock, getting ready to walk into court, getting ready to be tried, and negotiating with themselves about how they’re going to do it.

There’s this line, a line I’m told is from Yeomen Of the Guard, which I’ve never seen, and I think I heard from The West Wing. There’s a point where the hero and his men are discussing how they go to the executioner’s on the next day. A man in the next cell makes fun, and there’s this exchange:

“What does it matter how a man falls down?”
“When all that’s left is the fall, it matters a great deal.”

These actors probably are never going to do something like this, ever again. Even before the pandemic, we’re talking about actors who are all cresting into a point of their lives that are not going to do prop-based physical acting roles, roles that convey them as gangsters any more. There’s a real chance that the shift in the way England relates to the world is going to make Hatton Garden not an important centre of the global jewel trade, too. The men who really did this crime are all passing away from their advanced years.

The movie isn’t an amazing movie.

But as a way to fall down, I’m fond of it.

Story Pile: Ocean’s 8

I feel like this movie doesn’t even merit a review. I should just kick open the door and shout HOLY SHIT THIS RULES, all fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, I’m out energy as I storm out into the night. But this is a dignified place, I tell myself, and so instead let’s try and put some energy into explaining why this movie.

Your vital statistics! Ocean’s 8 is the fifth movie in the Ocean’s franchise and its second cast shift, all operating around the ‘premise’ if that counts, of a group of incredibly cool celebrities doing a heist of some variety with the overall air that it’s really neat to see these cool actors having fun making a fun movie. There’s a drop of tension, sure, and there’s a puzzle about how the thing that got done got done, but at the heart of it, an Ocean’s movie is about watching actors you’re kind of fond of for some reason be really cool, usually to a soundtrack that rules.

In this case, the flip of the script is that we’re dealing with Debbie Ocean, Danny Ocean’s sister, played in this case by Sandra Bullock, and her gang of ne’er-do-wells is in fact crime ladies. Isn’t that a shocking twist?

It’s so wild, because the last time they did this, the gang was entirely men and nobody thought that was weird, but for some reason, this time around? People were? mad? for some reason?

Weird.

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Alchemist The Live Action Movie

Once the media juggernaut that was the Fullmetal Alchemist story had smashed in place a bestselling manga then created not one, but two best-selling internationally successful anime, not to mention a bunch of tie-in videogames, merchandising out the wazoo, it resolved that it was time to release a live action movie. The movie was originally developed for 2013, but was held up, citing reasons of technology and budget, not made and released until 2017.

And the movie, my friends, is bad.

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

And then like the krispy kreme, we’re back at it again.

It’s very hard to deal with contrary impulses and present a fair position without being coloured by the arguments you had on the way to get somewhere, or by the arguments you’re anticipating. For example, while I may say straight up that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is probably the best anime of its type that exists (mage-punk, long-running action-adventure character driven stories with themes of war and loss), there’s still the hanging asterisk that I was also pretty positive about Fullmetal Alchemist, and how much can someone trust my opinion on this one? And what’s more, how can I praise that anime and yet have qualified praise for this one, because that was a Bad Anime and this is a Good Anime?

Anime fandom is a mistake.

Anyway, the coda: I think that Brotherhood is one of the best anime of its type, and yet, I think that has flaws that merit critical attention; I think that it’s worse because of the 2003 anime, and I think that anime is treated worse for not being this.

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Alchemist – The Anime

In 2003, the then-ongoing Fullmetal Alchemist manga launched a new anime, which took the series’ adventure story and complicated scientific-based material magical power system reinforced through firm, rigidly defined character interaction, and made it into an affair of visual spectacle. This was a good decision because all the pieces were in place to make a great action adventure anime, with a dash of horror, with the promise of riding the popularity of the manga readers that were following eagerly along with the manga.

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Alchemist – The Manga

There are a certain number of pieces of media that I don’t tend to want to talk about.

Sometimes, I don’t want to talk about a piece of media because I’ve never seen it, and in order to comment on it, I’d have to seek it out, and I don’t imagine I’ll be bringing anything new or interesting to the table. I’m a white cis guy, and lots of white cis guys who are straighter than me have worked very, very hard to make sure that if you get a ‘standard take’ on anything, you’re getting it from some variety of white cis guy. Watching The Room so I can say ‘yes, this sure is just as bad as I expected’ is not, to me, a valuable use of your time or mine. If I’m going to hatewatch something it’s because I know there’s something in there, some perspective I can bring to bear that’s interesting.

There’s also stuff I don’t talk about because I’ve been specifically asked not to talk about it. That is, stuff that I am known as being negative or critical about, and where sensitive people have asked, fairly nicely, for me to leave them alone as topics.

There are still works I don’t talk about, though, because they’re so good and them being good is so well known, I’m not going to tell you anything new by doing it. I don’t think, really, there’s a single thing I can tell you about Avatar: The Last Airbender that isn’t already done better by someone else, I don’t think that I’m going to provide a single extra angle on Inception, and even if I did have something to say (‘it’s fine,’ at best), I don’t find my opinion interesting.

The idea that my opinions are inherently interesting is the plague of privilege that I absolutely do not want to be comfortable.

Why then, would I talk about Fullmetal Alchemist?

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Story Pile: Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas

I really liked Nanette. I thought it was really good and I wanted to share it around with my friends, because at its best, the Story Pile is an opportunity to just grab all my friends and talk excitedly about something you haven’t seen, or, if you have seen it, to jump up and down with you and show you how clever we both are for liking this thing. I liked Nanette so much I did a very rare video examining it where I trotted out Steve Geyer of all people.

Not to go over my love of Nanette, though, because it was a prickly recommendation at the best of times. Basically a ninety minute long Content Warning with its own absolutely brutal conclusion that nonetheless brought with it some truly body-blowing comedy that oh no here I’m going and praising Nanette again, but the point is, fuck that, Nanette is great, and Douglas is great too, phew, got the subject back into the cradle oh wait now we’re talking about A Knight’s Tale oh well that was great.

Now, Douglas is a show that helpfully starts out with a table of contents. Seriously, Gadsby goes over the themes and subject matter in the show and just tells you what’s going to be going into it, which means my normal concern about spoiling in a show that’s so built on timing and surprise is a little diminished. Particularly, then if I tell you this show is about autism, well, that’s something that she mentions in the opening, and she does so without making the phrase itself shocking or startling.

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Story Pile: Smokin’ Aces

When I resolved to not spend this month complaining about queer media I didn’t like, nor to subject myself to queer media in a form I knew I wouldn’t like, I didn’t realise how challenging that was going to make things since I didn’t have another Wynona Earp land in my lap. That meant going back through either movies I meant to comment on or movies I had commented on but never on the blog, and to my amazement, I found this.

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Story Pile: Madoka

Man how much does it suck that this blog that is ostensibly about the critical engagement with pop culture media and niche genre spaces with an eye towards queer and marginalised people has to open conversations about extremely popular media with a disclaimer about how, hey, woah now, hold up, just so you know, I’m going to fail to fawn over this work for its excellence. Like, how poisoned is the entire idea of discourse that media must be treated with kid gloves, because the people to whom it matters are so starved of the kind of media they love that they fancy the idea of ‘their’ media being criticised as being an act of violence.

Point is, I’m not really interested in talking about Madoka itself.

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Story Pile: John Wick 3: Para Bellum

You know what, I’m not going to unpack for you the incredibly obvious idea that I, me, the person I am that writes this blog, loves the hell out of John Wick. Right? And okay, the series of movies are moody and atmospheric and they’re excellently made and full of deeply thoughtful imagery and they’re created primarily by the people who normally don’t get power to make movies like this, so you’re seeing the expertise of a niche group expressed in the medium they’re best at and so you get this fricking amazing movie of practical stunts put together by stunt crew who know their discipline down to the the bottom of the floor. Excellently made, brilliantly compelling, fantastically fun, and full of all these actors who are great doing a great job, nobody needs to hear this because as a mediocre millenial white guy of course I love John Wick movies you can just kind of assume and even if you were wrong it wouldn’t be offensive or anything.

There’s your basics.

No real spoiler warning, I’m going to talk about one character and they show up early.

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Story Pile: Mahou Tsukai Tai

“Hey, Talen,” I tell myself.

“Yeah?”

“We’re going to do Pride month, right?”

“Yep!”

“And that means you’re going to prioritise the queer articles you mean to write, but they’re kinda hard or need research, or you feel that the nature of the work means it’s best to put them all together, so while you’re doing a lot of related research, it can all kinda reference together, and you don’t wind up switching gears from a mindset of, say, magic tricks and knife crime to trying to talk thoughtfully about gender and our relationship to our bodies, resulting in some horrifying wording problem?”

“Yeah, that, that, and-”

Story Pile then, what are we going to do? Watch some Netflix queer movies that show up when you mash the LGBTQ button? Bust out some old classic texts? Revisit Dragon Prince and go in on the Claudia issue?”

“Well um, I figured I’d,”

“Yeees?”

“Why are you trying to spin the anticipation here, you are me,”

“Rhetorically, I’m not.”

“You know what, forget it. Point is, I’m going to start by talking about the first anime I remembered watching because there was a hot boy in it.”

“Whut.”

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Story Pile: Deep Space Nine, Part III

Content warning! I dig into the Cardassians a little bit later on in this, and that means there’s going to be a mention of Nazis and stuff Nazis like in media. Tap out at the end of Take Me Out To The Holosuite if you wanna skip it!

Like I said last time, I actually like Deep Space 9. It may be a bit of a surprise that someone can have four thousand words (good god) of non-stop complaining about a show they liked, but I was trying to avoid being toxic about it. It’s one thing to criticise a show’s direction and story structure and its narrative priorities, and another thing to talk about how people are idiots for liking something. And hell, since I like it, I get to be one of those idiots.

We’ve talked about the death of the author in the past, and we’ve talked about wrestling as live theatre, and I’ve talked about the idea of the Ghost of the Author, an occluded identity of someone who ‘made’ the story and ‘made’ the choices that went into it. In the case of Deep Space 9, though, there’s a clear, fracticious and well-documented explanation for why things were weird.

Rick Berman sucks.

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Story Pile: Deep Space Nine, Part II

I think if you ask me about my general impression of Deep Space 9, it’s going to come across as extremely negative. That’s pretty reasonable, I think because if you bring something up to me about the series, on pure statistics, it’s probably going to be one of the long, large threads that runs throughout the story that really fucking irritates me.

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Story Pile: Volcano

Volcano is from 1979, one year after Son of a Son, and while it still has that gulfy musical style Jimmy likes, and a real beachy theme and sound to it, it’s an album that’s showing perhaps some of the signs of touring. It has two of Jimmy’s ‘big 8’ songs – songs that get played at every concert – and one of them’s pretty good!

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Story Pile: De RigeurMortis

Hey, it’s my birthday.

What’s something I can do that’s really worth it for this day? What self-aggrandising thing can I put out there that you’ll feel obligated to check out? What have I held off on sharing up until this moment…?

Imagine the sound of knuckles popping as lips draw up near a mic and a voice says, low, and slightly menacing, as Paul McDemortt prepping to launch the punchline of a truly vile joke in the livest of Doug Anthony Allstars shows, I guess that it’s time.

A content warning for this article is I’m going to use the word ‘cunt’ a few times, which I don’t normally do? Sorry!

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Story Pile: Durarara!!

One thing I promised myself when I started this document is that I’d write about this series. After all, I love Baccano so much, it shouldn’t be that hard to just continue that same thread of language, right? Those words are the ones I put down in 2018, after I finished putting the first draft of my Baccano document together, thinking it would be swift and simple to follow up with words about Durarara!!

Silly me.

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Story Pile: NEXTWAVE!

April has been a difficult month to write for, not the least of which because, uh, global pandemic, but also because one of the details about April is it’s a time to write about things I want to write about, the subjects I’ve saved to talk about because they’re personal.

For the non-Pile articles, this has been decidedly easy, with lots of indulgent sniping at other people’s misinformed or inadequately excellent opinions, but for the media piles it has proven difficult because I feel I’ve already addressed some of my favourites and most culturally important experiences and at least right now, in this time of malaise, I find it hard to remember things I consider deep and personal favourites, favourites about which I can say fun or interesting things.

I’ve written about the Quest for Glory games, I’ve written about the Baldur’s Gate games, Doom and Baccano and other games that feel somewhat iconic to myself, and I find myself wondering what more I can even say, what has been worth holding up. John Wick? Tons of people have talked about how great that movie is, what more am I going to bring to bear on the conversation except as someone who has been in some creepily controlled situations with violence as the only out? Nothing useful. Nothing relatable.

Instead, then, I’m going to take an easy route. I’m going to talk about a comic book I love. I’m going to talk about Nextwave, a 2006-2007 limited run comic book that was written to live outside the main continuity of Marvel comics… and we’re going to start with a content warning.

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Story Pile: Son of a Son of a Sailor

The followup to Margaritaville And Some Other Songs was, to me, one half of a two-disc set that my dad got and taped so we could listen to it in the car. It’s a very literal album – some very clear, explicit stories told in song form, not a lot of subtle metaphor. This album, while definitely Another Jimmy Buffett Album and having a song or two on it I really like, is relatively brainless.

It’s got a song about liking cheeseburgers, a song about liking parties, another song about liking parties, and two songs about people he’s met, with a restful, relaxing pace to them. These are to me, the better songs on the album – Cowboy in the Jungle and African Friend are both songs that talk about other, interesting people, and their stories as Jimmy’s narrator only momentarily intersected with them.

It’s interesting, and infamously, Cheeseburger in Paradise is a weird classic of his, a song about… liking a cheeseburger.

Anywayyyy, uh

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Story Pile: Le Mans 1955

I was recommended to watch this short film on Youtube by my father, who is and has almost always been, an avid motorsports fan. Unlike many other Story Pile entries, this one, you can just press a button and watch it. You can watch the whole thing.

Le Mans 1955 is a 2018 short animated feature, made by a guy called Quentin Baillieux, along with no doubt, dozens of other people’s hard work. I’m not a French speaker, nor am I versed in the French animation scene so I can’t really get involved and say ‘oh, here’s the context for that,’ but I want you to be aware of the limits I have. I don’t know Baillieux, I don’t know the studio, this is very much just an area of my ignorance.

Hell, my ignorance runs deep on this one; I knew, vaguely, there were a bunch of crashes in motorsports history, but I didn’t know about this one. I can remember hearing of Ayrton Senna being killed in a crash when I was a young child, I can remember the horror of seeing my dad and uncle react to the news of Alex Zanardi being cut in half from a crash in 2000. Motorsports has been around me and never engaged me my entire life. What I mostly knew were these tragic, terrible incidents of someone just

being gone.

I was also growing up in the 90s, so the idea of the motorsports crash was heavily influenced by that – a period when safety standards had already been clamped down pretty hard and were going to clamp down further. I hadn’t looked into the grim history of the worst crashes, the worst audience fatalities, the worst this sport could be, and what could happen.

In 1955, one of the greatest motorsports disasters took place, where a track that wasn’t meant for cars to do this, where three bodies moving at high speed made reasonable but imperfect judgements and the result was a car moving at two hundred miles per hour flying through the air at such speed and with such force that it burst into flames and disintegrated, into a stadium full of spectators. Eighty people died. A hundred and eighty or so were injured.

This is a strange gem of culture. This is one of those periods of time when men were successfully carving out spaces for themselves. This is a point where a man retiring almost but not quite on top was a heavy weight, and it took eighty deaths and a hundred and eighty injuries for him to consider hey hang on maybe. This is a deeply relatable, painful moment, if you can connect with these men from a time when, in a space they had made for themselves and driven out all alternatives, they had to deal with the anguish that they normally relied on other people to handle.

It’s also about games.

The lead didn’t matter. Oh there were incentives, financial and reputation wise, there were some levels of stocks or investment or confidence or whatever that you could make out of winning the race, but winning the race versus placing second or fifth in the race was relatively meaningless. These were specialised subdivisions of companies that were showing they could push the idea of vehicle design to its absolute limit, but they were all systems of things. The nature of privilege for men, even in this period, was one where there were layers upon layers of protection and guarantee to keep you from being seriously hurt for failures. Nobody went to jail over Le Mans. Nobody got blamed.

The reason to care about your performance at Le Mans was because you cared about your performance at Le Mans.

In this movie, you see the emotions of men who cared about their performance at Le Mans so much that there was a struggle… a real tense struggle to be able to say no.

I have to stop the game.

People have died.


Thanks, Dad, this was a really good little movie, and I really appreciate being told about it!