Hands on a Hard Body By Mike White. Hands on a Hardbody (S...
Hands on a Hardbody (S. R. Bindler, 1998)

To the uninitiated, Hands on a Hardbody may vaguely sound like it’s a porn film or perhaps a film about a “fluffer” or someone involved in oiling up muscles in a body building contest. To those more familiar with vehicles, a “hardbody” is the term for a Nissan pickup truck. The “hands” fit into S. R. Bindler’s documentary courtesy of the 1994 “Hands on a Hardbody” competition. This annual contest at a Longview, Texas Nissan dealership has contestants place a hand on a well-equipped truck. The last person to take their hand off the truck wins it.

It’s an endurance test; a contest of wills.

Director Bindler does a terrific job, introducing the audience to the contestants, the rules, the attitudes, and the strategies. We hear the voice of experience via Benny Perkins, the winner of the 1992 contest who has returned to earn a second truck. Perkins describes his mindset and the course of action he used during his first attempt; “If you eat something like [a hamburger] it’ll bring you down.”

In a tournament of time and endurance, Hands on a Hardbody has nary a dull moment. As the hours tick by, Bindler interjects interviews with participants and contrasts them with on-the-spot insight. We see attitudes shift and fortitude fold or fortify. As the twenty-three entrants dwindle, friendships are forged and rivalries arise. The contest acts as a personality magnifier; artifice fades as fatigue kicks in. More than swollen joints and numb feet, time takes its toll on the minds of these resolute combatants. Some become comatose while others fall into fits of hysterical laughter.

I only watched the final episode of the first season of Survivor. I could see the appeal of the show: the personality conflicts and physical duress. However, Hands on a Hardbody condenses that intensity into a terrific, taut, 90-minute work of absurd human drama.

Note: Turning this documentary into a narrative feature was the last project that director Robert Altman was working on when he passed away. The documentary has been turned into a musical in 2012.

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