Moving Pictures
Jul 09, 2024, 06:29AM

Poor Formula

It doesn’t matter if F1 will be good, it’s not for people that want good movies, just as Formula 1 itself isn't interesting or legitimate anymore.

Joseph kosinski and brad pitt are determined to make the most accurate and most impressive formula one movie ever made.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Ahead of the 2024 British Grand Prix, a teaser was dropped for Joseph Kosinski’s Brad Pitt vehicle F1. The film’s production has loomed heavy in the background of the premier motor racing series, with principle photography getting underway at last year’s race at Silverstone—so it’s appropriate they’d release a trailer now. While it seemed well-timed beforehand, it’s ironic having dropping an extremely underwhelming trailer ahead of one of the most scintillating and emotional races in years, where Sir Lewis Hamilton took his first victory in almost three years, his ninth at his home race (becoming the record holder number of wins by a single driver at a single track), in his last attempt with Mercedes, a team where he won six out of his seven World Drivers’ Championships in his dominance during the turbo-hybrid era. It’s an incredible display of human achievement, and the TV prologue chose to show the worst, most inhuman trends of modern filmmaking attempting to make its own mechanical narrative out of the sporting cash-cow that’s Formula 1.

As expected, F1 looks like an empty tech demonstration, a ghostly ride where extremely high resolution cameras are strapped to man’s fastest machines, stretching the bodies of stars that demand we refuse their aging. F1 will be right in line with Kosinski’s previous deathly work, Top Gun: Maverick (2022), a film ostensibly about Tom Cruise in a dying industry becoming too old for his stardom, until at the last minute, the film tells us he’s immortal. In a way, it’s the perfect fusion of man and machine: Cruise has become a soulless movie star since he’s started on the Christopher McQuarrie run of Mission Impossible movies, a sexless body of physical prowess—he has nothing to do except perform feats of strength over and over while we clap in empty theaters with seat-shaking surround sound.

Formula 1, along with all combustion-propelled racing series, has struggled throughout its existence as being accepted as being a “sport” along with other athletic endeavors. This is because motorsport, while an intensely physical pursuit, is as much about the machine as the body. Many of the “great” eras of racing have been marked by mechanical domination alongside its human prowess: the ostensibly anarchic years of innovation in Can-Am sports car racing and Rally Group B were dominated by the McLaren M8 and Audi Quattro, respectively—possibly only the exploits of Juan Manuel Fangio in the first years of the official Formula 1 Championship can be seen as man truly dominating machine, winning five World Drivers’ Championships for four different constructors in just six years. I’m not one to call into question either the inherent athleticism or sportsmanship of motor racing, though, but instead I’d draw attention to a new, emerging issue within the world of motorsports which stems from changes in Formula 1, specifically, and is bleeding into all other series in the world.

Ever since the boom in global (but particularly, crucially American) viewership in Formula 1 spawned by the launch of the Netflix show on the series, Drive to Survive, which went gangbusters as bored work-from-homers ran out of their typically allotted content with so much new free time on their hands. The key word is content—people that got into Drive to Survive likely weren’t looking for a new sport to follow, they were looking for a new way to have their time milled on smartphones and social media; it’s so different to recent sportsbook obsessives have gotten into gambling on random Japanese baseball teams, they have no vested interest beyond that it’s another thing to place bets on.

In its current incarnation, Formula 1 is the perfect product to rally lifestyle branding. Gone are the days of pure and exclusionary elitism characterized by dictatorial leadership and naked classism of the likes of Jean-Marie Balestre, Max Mosley, and Bernie Ecclestone (whom I can’t ever talk about without also mentioning that that turbulent trio was, respectively, a member of the French SS, son of the British Union of Fascists, and a regular on the Epstein flight logs). I’ve written before about how half a century ago, the paddocks were trying to keep Hollywood out, and now they let them in with open arms. Now we live in the aspirational era of influencers, where a person with a cell phone and some Instagram followers can find themselves in the paddock next to some of the most rich, famous, and powerful people in the world as they gather around to look 8-figure racing machines meant to drive man to the complete limit. Even if this wasn’t an era of Formula 1 racing dominated by Max Verstappen, who’s headed straight for his fourth consecutive World Drivers’ Championship despite growing competition from other front-running teams, F1 would still be less about on-track action than ever; it’s about selling ball caps, vacation packages, and getting good selfies. It’s about content.

F1, the Pitt/Kosinski project, looks like it’ll be just another piece in that content puzzle. There’s no way it can stun an audience the way that one of its chief influences, John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix (1966), once did—Grand Prix was a technical feat that showed images thought previously impossible, and F1 merely makes all the onboard angles that anyone who’s ever watched a minute of racing has already seen, only in higher resolutions and with movie stars instead of world-class athletes. It’s tired, it’s deathly—not dissimilar to Cruise and Pitt trying to prevent their irrelevance by pretending to battle against entropy. At the very least, people still remember their faces from when stars had power, when the culture industry could still confidently produce them, and so people will go to look at their strangely un-aging faces in unoccupied movie halls and at night while half-looking at their iPads. At best, stars now exist within a mutual content pool—are Austin Butler and Jodie Comer really movie stars if they’re getting introduced to audiences by doing promo for The Bikeriders (2024) at the Indy 500? Does the same go for Glen Powell having to prompt Twisters (2024) at the NASCAR street race in Chicago where, at best, the millions of people tuning in are wracking their brains about where they might’ve seen his face before.

The up-and-comers are flailing around trying to get a boost from racing series undergoing tragic, slow deaths, and the old-timers get to pin themselves as the faces of the big dogs like the American military and Formula 1. It doesn’t matter if F1 the movie will be good, it’s not for people that want good movies, just like how it doesn’t matter if Formula 1 the series is interesting or legitimate anymore, it’s not for the enthusiasts but the passive consumption of casual viewers. The quality doesn’t matter, it’s about appearances, and just another means of content for selling them.


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