Friday, 12 March 2010

Deadliest Crash

I finally got around to watching this DVD last night (my wife couldn't really refuse, as it was my birthday, and having indulged in a curry from the local take-away, she kindly gave up an hour of Sims in order to watch with me).

It is made by Bigger Picture films, John Matthews' company, which also made the two films "In the Lap of the Gods" and "Chasing the Dream", featuring the inside story of Martin Short's exploits at Le Mans in 2006 and 2007.

Its documentary style sits well with the material Matthews has available, which is not quite as exclusive as the commentary suggests. However, interviews with spectators who were there capture the atmosphere and emotion of the event in general and the accident in particular. Even fifty years on, the sheer terror of being in that spectator enclosure comes over extremely vividly.

The first half of the film deals with the background to the event, and the lead up to the crash, rather than the disaster itself. This is probably a good thing, as there is only so much blood and gore that one needs. However, I felt that the analysis of the crash itself could have been better covered. The 3-D graphical representation of the pit area was good, but did not illustrate very much (other than the narrowness of the pit straight). The eye-witness accounts from the tribune area are powerful, but asking Fitch and Dewis their opinions of whose fault it was doesn't really help.

Although it would have been necessarily hypothetical, it would have been interesting to use the 3-D graphic to show the accident from the viewpoints of those involved, Hawthorn, Macklin, Levegh and Fangio. No mention was made at all of Fangio's avoidance, without which the death toll would unquestionaly have been higher. And that one line comment that Macklin was "out of control" wasn't really backed up by anything.

The thing I did want to hear from Fitch was his view of the Mercedes withdrawal, but either he didn't want to be quoted, or he wasn't asked. In either case, something of an omission, in my view.

Overall, though, an excellent documentary, thoroughly deserving of an airing on network TV (or maybe it was and I missed it - there was mention of collaboration with the BBC in the credits).

And I would commend anyone with an interest in this crash to look at, or anywhere else that Paul Frere's excellent account (written in 1975, I think) can be found.

The problem with analysing anything like this too deeply is that folks have different memories and points of view. Most telling, is John Wyer's account in "The Certain Sound" - he saw the spinning Austin Healey of Lance Macklin and completely missed the Mercedes of Levegh crashing - although he was no more than 30 yards away. He is also honest enough to admit as much, rather than taking a position for other reasons.

Deadliest Crash and Go Like Hell - I'm becoming quite a reviewer, am I not?


  1. Fitch talked about Mercedes withdrawing as it is well documented that it was in fact his idea

    The BBC did not want one graphic never mind repeated viewings so whilst your idea is a good one - networks won't ride it in any way

    Fitch has a very strong opinion of who was to blame and Dewis balances this

    It is relevant to ask Dewis as he saw the whole thing so you are incorrect there - Fitch was witness to a confession overheard by Rob Walker so he is also relevant as Walker is dead

    It is very obvious why you would speak to Fitch - can you think why? The Executive Producer

  2. I think I pressed the incorrect button there.

    Thanks very much for the Blog about the film that took us three years to make and that was funded entirely by my team.

    Much appreciated and good to meet you.

  3. John - thanks for your comments - I am honoured to have them. I must have missed Fitch's comments - must watch the DVD again and listen more attentively.

    You're right, it was important to have the views of both Fitch and Dewis, especially as they were different. I guess the problem with the "blame game" is that ultimately it doesn't get you anywhere.

    The most memorable bit was the lady talking about her burnt hands, and still obviously emotionally scarred more than fifty years later. I am sure there are many more like her still out there somewhere.

    I wonder if they still go to the race?

    Good to 'meet' you too. And congratulations on the film. Do you need any ideas for your next project?

  4. deadliestcrash.com17 September 2010 at 17:15

    this film has been nominated for a prestigious Grierson Award at the British Film Institute in November see

  5. John: Congratulations... for the record (if anyone gets this far) the winner will be announced on Tuesday 2nd November. Watch this space for the results.

  6. Sadly for John Matthews and his team, Deadliest Crash did not win the award, despite being one of the nine films shortlisted. The top prize went to Julien Temple’s Requiem for Detroit. But a shortlist nomination is still highly commendable, and a worthy recognition for this film, which has been widely viewed by the general public, and not just the motor sporting world.