contests go, this sounds easy: Just compete with two dozen other
folks to see who can keep his hand on a pickup truck the longest.
The promotional event known as the "Hands on a Hard Body
Contest," hosted by Jack Long Nissan every year in the
east Texas town of Longview (125 miles east of Dallas, 60 miles
west of Shreveport, Louisiana), turns out to be a surprisingly
You get a five-minute break every
hour, a fifteen-minute break every six hours. If you lift your
hand for an instant, you’re out. If you’re two seconds late
in getting your hand back on the truck after a whistle ends
the break, you’re out.
Only one hand on the truck is
necessary, but you must be sure to put down the other hand before
moving the first. You are not allowed to lean on the truck or
prop yourself up on it, and you cannot squat or rest your legs
except during the breaks. Judges and supporters of the other
contestants are always watching.
The makers of this 1998 film
recorded the 1995 competition. Although the participants are
chosen by random drawing, you could hardly ask for a better
mix of characters.
Young Kelli Mangrum intends to
sell the truck the minute she wins it. One or two other folks
talk about having had a hard year financially, and you notice
they’re missing most of their teeth. "If I don’t get it,
I’m gonna have to get another job, and I don’t want another
job," says an ex-waitress. Kerri Parker is tired of bicycling
six miles to work every day ("I’m in need of wheels bad").
There’s a young buck fresh out of the Marines. Buxom Norma Valverde
and her husband "been prayin’ for a truck," and enjoy
the support of prayer chains at their church and other congregations
Trim, thoughtful Benny Perkins,
who won the contest three years before, is sure he knows all
the proper strategies to take the new truck home, and serves
as a kind of commentator. He gets more screen time than anyone,
describing (probably before the 1995 contest) his experiences,
knowledge, what it feels like at each stage of the game.
Although director and producer
Bindler shoots the film in a mostly deadpan style, there is
an occasional arty shot, such as a nearly full moon framed in
the axle hole of a spinning truck wheel—nice! At one point the
film flashes from one brief shot to another with a couple loud
snaps, like the sound of a bug zapper. A brief cut of two bulls
butting heads lacks subtlety, however. Good natured steel guitar
and bowed string bass constitute much of the soundtrack.
Turns out a bit of strategy could
be crucial. Perkins sniffs at people who eat burgers during
their breaks because it takes work to metabolize all the fat:
"Eat something heavy like that, it’s gonna take you down."
Several people make the mistake of packing candy bars. The oldest
contestant, J.D. Drew, smokes cigarettes during his breaks.
Contestants are required to wear
gloves as well, because perspiration "could deteriorate
the paint." The gloves prove to be another of the many
irritants as the competition wears on.
One veteran contest judge picks
Kelli to win because she’s got comfortable, loose clothing and
tennis shoes (as opposed to the guy who just couldn’t compete
without wearing his cowboy boots), and takes "smart breaks."
She eats bananas, fish, juices, has a lawn chair to prop up
her feet. Is the strength and flexibility of youth more apt
to win, or age and maturity?
Twelve hours pass before one
man’s hand slips off the truck. By 25 hours, 20 minutes, 16
of the original 23 contestants are still in. Ten contestants
are left at hour 48 (the third day). During hour 54, feisty
contestant Janis Curtis gives up, complaining of cheating that
goes unnoticed by the judges. When it’s down to the final three,
the contest requires them to take a drug test during their break.
The 1995 contest will end up lasting 77 hours.
Despite your tremendous weariness
when it gets to the last five people, Perkins says, every time
someone drops out there is "awesome exhilaration, and you
feel like you could jump to the moon…. I would compare it to
killin’ a deer, the first time."
There is remarkably little animosity
in this tournament. Contestant Paul Prince drops out at 60 hours,
but returns the following day to support the remaining players.
A judge is terribly apologetic when she has to disqualify someone
for absent-mindedly taking both her gloves off to scratch her
Though often quite funny, the
film drags a bit toward the end. Pacing turns slow and woozy,
and viewing becomes something of an ordeal, which may be a conscious
tactic to mirror the behavior of the subjects or just unavoidable,
given that nothing much is happening and the people are not
that inherently interesting.
When it’s down to the last two
participants, Perkins explains, that’s the hardest. Both contestants’
families and friends are looking at you. The other person’s
supporters give you hard looks, and you think: "Don’t they
realize that we’re sufferin’, that we’re hurtin’? And you feel
like they’re kinda bloodthirsty. It seems so absurd, very absurd.
It’s a human drama thing; it’s more than just a contest, and
winning a truck."
others, the credits give thanks to Matthew McConaughey and Benicio
Del Toro. Like Bindler, McConaughey is a native of Longview
and agreed to help produce the film. I don't know the story
on Del Toro, who's hotter than hot now that it's 2001. Does
anybody remember him in the films that preceded this one, such
as The Usual Suspects, Swimming with Sharks, and especially
Big Top Pee-Wee?
a Texan, whose truck is said to be "kind of like his hat," David
Loftus has never driven a pickup, let alone owned one. In fact,
he refused to get a driver's license at all before the age of
28. Loftus and his wife, Carole Barkley, are a one-car family
in Portland, Oregon, and are trying to figure out how to do
without even one car. He does own a couple of fedoras, however.
David Loftus, Writer
Julia Wall—Associate Producer
Neal Kassanoff, Guy Forsyth—Music
1998, 94 minutes
1999 Best Documentary, Boston
Society of Film Critics
1997 Special Jury Award—Editing,
Florida Film Festival
1997 Audience Award—Best
Documentary, Los Angeles Int’l Film Festival