Perhaps one way to get a leg up on the streaming wars is to release programs that are relevant, if not outright influential, to current theatrical releases.
Seemingly, this is what Netflix had done by recently adding the 2016 documentary, The 24 Hour War. The Adam Carrolla/Nate Adams-helmed flick takes a historical look at the sporting rivalry between two dominant automakers, the American-based Ford Motor Company and Italian-bred Ferrari, which reached its peak in the 1960s at the famed 24-hour endurance race at Le Mans, France. The release dovetails perfectly for those who may have seen Ford v. Ferrari, the new film starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale that has gotten rave reviews at the box office since hitting theaters last month.
In watching The 24 Hour War, you can’t help but to think that you’re watching a primetime show on History Channel or even CNBC. While the interviews are full of insights about the growth of both companies and their impact on auto racing, the collection of them will feel a bit weighty like a college lecture. The first third of the film leans heavily on stories of how both automakers – as well as Alfa Romero, which Ferrari was borne out from – built their teams from the 1920s, through World War II and the Great Depression and into the 1960s when Enzo Ferrari shakes up his racing team to great success. Though there are splices of archival films from races of the era, there aren’t enough visuals to add color to the tales woven from both racing historians and the descendants of the founders who built these car makers. (This is not so much the fault of anyone as it is the realities of being spoiled by advances in media that would bring more and more live action to the public as the 20th century progressed.)
That said, the history is crucial because it provides the backdrop for the central conflict at hand. Both Ford and Ferrari had been fierce competitors in motorsports for some time, and their successes on the track helped spur new car sales in both the United States and Europe. Yet, Ford essentially built its entire Le Mans program in the Sixties after Ferrari rebuffed a merger offer that could have expanded Ford’s imprint in Europe and provided the Italian maker a huge influx of much-needed cash. Ferrari had dominated the race for several years before Henry Ford II declared war on Enzo Ferrari for killing the deal at the last minute.
For nearly half of the film, War is told largely from the reflections of the heirs to the thrones of both companies as well as motorsports historians. Yet, let’s not assume that tales told here only come from sons of scions and history geeks – far from it. Racing legends like Jackie Oliver, David Hobbs and Brian Redman talk about the dangers of a circuit with far fewer safety regulations compared to modern times. Mario Andretti, Richard Attwood and several winners at Le Mans provided their own views of how their employers had built winning machines. And to show the true depths of the “war,” we hear about other critical races that lead up to the larger battles such as the rain-soaked 12 Hours of Sebring in 1965 that proved to be a major test for Ford’s GT model.
For the viewers relatively unfamiliar with this part of sports such as yours truly, it may seem hard to keep up with every name and race, especially if Ford vs. Ferrari might have been your gateway into this world. However, for the true gearheads, War is heaven as it explains how each technological advance from both car makers pushed endurance racing – and motorsports on a whole – forward.
As War focuses on the car maker rivalry of the 60s, it can serve as the gateway to surprisingly deep collections the streamers are featuring on motorsports. Netflix boasts a new film, Shelby American, which dives deep into one of War’s most featured personas, the iconic American racer and entrepreneur Carroll Shelby. The streamer is currently the home to Senna, a doc based on another guidepost to the sport, the late Brazilian idol Ayrton Senna. And the critically-acclaimed series Formula 1: Drive to Survive, which has recently been renewed for a second season. Amazon Prime has several racing programs, including Grand Prix Driver, the Original series that focuses on another automaker, Maclaren, and its highly-dramatic 2017 Formula 1 season. But its superb docuseries Le Mans: Racing is Everything displays the fully evolved endurance race with cars that Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II could have only dreamed of five decades before.
At first glance, The 24 Hour War seems to flirt with the themes that the new Hollywood blockbuster takes on with aplomb – stubborn and proud men risking life, limb and liquidity to win on the track. Yet, without the visual bombast that comes with A-list actors and filmmakers, it may appear like old men wistfully telling tales of yesteryear when they were “in the prime.” War, in a roundabout way, goes from being a dictation of history to a love story of the business acumen, engineering brilliance and testosterone-fueled madness that grew on both sides of the Atlantic.
Jason Clinkscales is the editor-in-chief for The Sports Fan Journal and senior editor at Yardbarker whose work has been featured at Awful Announcing, The Week and Dime Magazine. A New York City native, he is also a former media research analyst in both television networks and advertising agencies.
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