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Keep on Truckin'

[whitespace] Hands on a Hard Body
Love Me Fender: A Nissan pickup truck gets some loving attention in Longview, Texas.

Texans vie to touch the truck of their dreams in new documentary 'Hands on a Hard Body'

By Heather Zimmerman

THE STATUS of the automobile in this country goes way beyond transportation, and S.R. Bindler's documentary Hands on a Hard Body demonstrates the bizarre sway that four wheels and an engine can hold over mere mortals. Bindler is a native of Longview, Texas, home to the Hands on a Hard Body contest in which a local Nissan dealership gives away a fully loaded $15,000 Nissan truck to the person who can stand--no leaning or squatting allowed--with at least one hand on the truck the longest. A film of 23 people standing around a truck (one year, the contest lasted 102 hours) certainly doesn't promise compelling viewing, but Bindler has made good use of interviews and captured, as contestant Benny Perkins describes the contest, "a human drama" (an assertion that admittedly sounded pretty absurd in an interview with Benny at the beginning of the film).

Bindler interviews many of the participants both before and during the contest, often during their short allotted breaks. These "pre"-interviews in particular keep up interest during the slow first day of the contest, during which everybody basically waits for everyone else to start dropping out. The cocky Benny, a previous winner of the contest who entered again, provides ample colorful quotes, advises would-be competitors, "if you can't hunt with the big dogs, get back on the porch with the puppies." The contest features a wild variety of participants, from the kindly good ol' boy Russell to the deeply religious Norma, and learning their reasons for entering the competition and their strategies for winning--everything from wearing cowboy boots to fasting to listening to inspirational music--is what makes the film so fun, illustrating the camaraderie that forms between competitors as they get to know each other.

In documenting this unusual bit of Americana, Bindler shows us a microcosm of human nature, and although there is some resentment and accusations of cheating as the contest wears on, what's most striking is the friendship and support the majority of contestants show each other. In this era of road rage, tender bonds formed over a pickup truck probably have to be seen to be believed, but surprisingly, they make for an enjoyable moviegoing experience.

Hands on a Hard Body (PG; 97 min.), directed by S.R. Bindler and photographed by S.R. Bindler, Michael A. Nickles and Chapin Wilson.

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From the March 18-24, 1999 issue of Metro.

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