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Docurama presents
Speedo (2004)

Linda: He could spend like 12, 15 hours a day on the racing, on his cars, time that could be more constructive around the house, but that's what he likes to do.
Ed: I'm not very good with construction around the house. Got no wheels on the house. It's got no wheels, I can't work on it.

- Linda Jager, Ed "Speedo" Jager

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: October 25, 2004

Stars: Ed "Speedo" Jager
Other Stars: Linda Jager, Anthony Jager, Michael Jager, Liz Mallows
Director: Jesse Moss

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, fighting)
Run Time: 01h:21m:13s
Release Date: October 26, 2004
UPC: 767685966334
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+BB B

DVD Review

Four years ago, upstart documentary filmmaker Jesse Moss had a hand in the Oscar-nominated On the Ropes, a boxing film that was more an examination of the power of dreams than a sports film. Speedo, released on the festival circuit last year and recently aired on PBS, covers familiar thematic territoryŚMoss profiles another dreamer with his sights set on a career in pro sports. Only this time, his hero is a lonely, unhappy, and extremely affable middle-aged man, and the sport is demolition derby racing.

The film follows demolition derby enthusiast Ed "Speedo" Jager around for an entire year, and focuses not only on the mania of his hobby (which would have made for a fun, but insubstantial, sports flick), but the release it gives him from the frustration of his everyday life. Speedo (as he prefers to be called) is trapped in a marriage that has long outlived its usefulness to either spouse. The mechanic by day, "car-tist" by night pours himself into demo racing to the point of obsession, driving wife Linda further and further away. On the track, though, he can vent his frustrations in a crash of steel. As one of his children observes, Speedo can be a real drag when he's stressed, but after a race, everything is OK again.

Speedo turns out to be quite the grease-stained philosopher, despite his penchant for malapropisms. He ruminates on the popularity of demolition derbies ("Everyone has that violence inside them, whether they admit it or not, they want to see it."), bluntly explains the dissolution of his marriage, and offers his views on parenting (in fact, he stayed in the unhappy marriage for his children's sake, and spent 12 years relegated to the living room couch for their benefit).

Speedo is as much about fatherhood as it is crashing cars, in fact. Moss calls it a "demolition derby love story" because of changes in Speedo's personal life (after breaking up with Linda, he meets Liz, a derby official, and feels blissfully happy and renewed), but I think his love for his sons trumps any romantic content. Watch the scene where he attends his gangly teen son Anthony's punk rock show. The boy dyes his hair pink, dresses himself in strips of duct tape, and shrieks incoherently onstage for the entire performance. During all of this, Speedo sits by, clearly mortified, but is the first to jump up with congratulations at the finish (though, he tells the camera, he's not a fan of the pink hair, for predictably, politically incorrect reasons). Anthony does most of the talking, but younger son Michael is always lurking in the background, clearly in awe of his awesome dad (all his skateboarder friends can be seen milling around in the background of just about every scene filmed at the Jager house). Whatever problems Linda and Speedo had as a couple, it seems they always put their children first. Speedo even admits, grudgingly, that Linda is a great mom, even if she made for a "bad wife."

But don't get me wrong, there is plenty of car crash footage, too. If Moss is skilled at getting his subjects to open up and act natural for the camera, he's just as good at capturing the frenzy of the track up close. He does everything but climb onto the track during a race. Showing a blatant disregard for the safety of his cameras, he even mounts two of them on Speedo's car during a match (they don't last long). When tensions get heated after a match, he's there to capture a near-fistfight between Speedo and another driver (though, he jokes on the commentary, he's filming safely from behind a protective shield of 12-year-old onlookers).

In the end, Speedo is a sports film by proxy, the kind of thing the guys can get all sniffly about over a beer, blaming their wet eyes on allergies or the dog. Moss captures the heart of a tough car guy and discovers it to be, under all that steel, pretty soft after all.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Filmed on digital video, Speedo looks low budget, but fairly clean, on DVD. Images lack depth and color contrast (due to the source material), but exhibit marked clarity and a lack of digital grain in brighter scenes (though night scenes are positively swimming with it). I noted no digital anomalies like aliasing or artifacting.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English Stereoyes


Audio Transfer Review: Director Jesse Moss often filmed without a second person to help him record sound, and thus, sound quality varies quite a bit throughout. It's sometimes crisp and clear, sometimes a bit muffled, and at times, there is a slight audible echo. The basic stereo mix presents the roaring engines at the racetrack without much envelopment, but dialogue is always clear and audible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
10 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back, Brother's Keeper, Go Tigers!, Keep The River On Your Right, The Legend of Ron Jeremy, Lost in La Mancha, See How They Run, The Smashing Machine, Sophie B. Hawkins: The Cream Will Rise, The Weather Underground
3 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Jesse Moss, Ed "Speedo" Jager
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: Director Jesse Moss and Speedo himself, Ed Jager, sit down together to reminisce about the film on the commentary track. It's fascinating to listen to, perhaps because Jager is such a Hollywood outsider, with few presumptions about what a commentary is supposed to sound like (boring and self-important, in most cases). He does most of the talking, whether he's explaining the politics of demolition derby racing or ruminating on the onscreen dissolution of a 20-year marriage. Moss pipes in with questions, or to give his impressions of a specific scene, but, as usual, Speedo is the showman.

Three deleted scenes run a total of about 10 minutes. The footage is interesting, but I suppose it just didn't fit into the film's flow. There is also a "where are they now" update for the major players.

Filmmaker's Statement provides a bit of text background on the project from Moss, whose own history is illuminated in a Filmmaker Biography. Closing out the Speedo features is a gallery of Jager's photos.

The disc also includes the usual Docurama mission statement and catalogue, with spots for Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back, Brother's Keeper, Go Tigers!, Keep The River On Your Right, The Legend of Ron Jeremy, Lost in La Mancha, See How They Run, The Smashing Machine, Sophie B. Hawkins: The Cream Will Rise, and The Weather Underground.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Billed as a "demolition derby love story," Speedo finds emotional depth and humanity in the most unexpected of places. And when he's not lashing out during (or after) a race, Ed "Speedo" Jager is one of the most loveable, real, and relatable characters in any recent film, documentary or not. Jesse Moss' documentary isn't the stuff of year-end awards, but it's more entertaining, and has more heart, than many traditional Oscar winners.

 


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