Twenty years ago this summer, two dozen Texans put their hands on a truck and wound up starring in one of the best documentaries ever made. S.R. Bindler's Hands on a Hard Body is a small story. Ninety-five percent of the film is shot in one parking lot where a $15,000 Nissan commands our attention like an altar to the American Dream. Whoever takes his hand off last wins the truck, a challenge that sounds simple but becomes an epic test of endurance as the hours and days and back strains accrue.
Past victor Benny Perkins, a Zen cowboy who speaks with the assurance of a champion who's conquered exhaustion and boredom, warns that the contest comes down to “who can maintain their sanity the longest.” Will it be the strategic waitress? The middle-aged church lady? The former athlete pounding Snickers bars? The deer hunter accustomed to staying still? Or will it be Benny himself, the old-timer who irritates this year's hopefuls by entering again?
As competitors collapse, their eyes unfocused and brains incoherent, the film becomes a testament to shared suffering, the empathy that moves people to ice down their rivals' necks. It's also a tribute to the stubbornness that keeps people standing even when they're too tired to walk.
For years, Hands on a Hard Body was almost impossible to rent. (Even now, DVDs are rare.) Among film fans, it acquired a mythic stature — which is why Quentin Tarantino commissioned a new 35mm print to add to the New Beverly's midnight-movie rotation. A documentary in the time slot usually reserved for thrillers like Kill Bill? As Benny notes, this isn't just any true story — “It's a human drama thing.” —Amy Nicholson
HANDS ON A HARD BODY | The New Beverly | Sat., May 30, 11:55 p.m. | thenewbev.com