Hands on a Hard Body (1997) movie poster

(1997) dir. S.R. Bindler
viewed: 12/07/02

I had been interested to see this documentary when it came through the Roxie a couple of years ago (or whenever it was) and had since heard good things about it from a couple of different people. It is about a Survivor-like contest at a Longview, TX Nissan dealership in which participants have to stand with their “hands on a hard body” Nissan truck until they are the last one standing. It is an endurance challenge, not unlike the dance contests of the early 20th century. The prize is the truck which they have held a hand on for the roughly 80 hours of sleep-deprived waiting.

The participants are all pretty entertaining characters. The contest has created and attracts a bizarre subculture, the most-amusing of which is Benny Perkins, a winner from a previous year and thus an intimidating competitor in the present competition. Perkins pontificates and philosophizes about the experience to amusing extremes, seeing within the contest all of the “human drama” of the world. The filmmakers rely a good deal on Perkins’ rhetoric to convey the film’s intended significance. And he’s a good subject with his Texan drawl, he’s a veritable Walt Whitman of the standing-with-your-hand-on-a-truck circuit.

The film manages to keep from making too much fun of its subjects, which could have been a reasonable temptation. The contest was filmed in 1995, but at times feels like its from perhaps a decade earlier.

Techncially, the film is weak, though. Working with a low budget and possibly just a single camera, the filmmakers manage to miss every significant dramatic moment, including the final person to drop off. The physical editing and sound also seem particularly unpolished, which is understandable, but the editorial “choices” also seem unpolished. Frequent visual and autitory flashbacks seem to detract from the narrative, rather than to enlighten it.

Despite its technical shortcomings, it still made for entertaining viewing.