Road Trip 

Throughout the '60s, surf film pioneer Bruce Brown made reverent, obsessive documentaries about the marvels of surfing. With titles like The Endless Summer, the films had a sweet, endearing tone provided by Brown's witty voice-over observations, like a surf-mad uncle narrating his own home movies. Those films were the precursor to recent docs like Stacy Peralta's powerful, emotionally gripping Riding Giants, which paid tribute to the spiritual side of a sport where men and women reconciled their own puny selves to the epic forces of nature and clocked their lives to a different pace far from the workaday one.

Now Bruce's son, Dana Brown, has brought that same tone of respect, awe and wonder to the world of racing in Dust to Glory, which documents the various riders' stories and the continuing mystique of the Baja 1000, the annual 1,000-mile motor race on perilous unpaved roads up Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

Junior Brown does everything in his power to deify the form. But let's face it: A gaggle of well-heeled, corporate-sponsored white guys blasting as fast as they can through a foreign country are not really getting in touch with themselves or the elements, though there are apparently some psychedelic moments when exhausted drivers begin to hallucinate all kinds of visions on the open road.

The Baja tends to buckle beneath all of the reverence and mystification Brown heaps on it.

In this new extreme sport hagiography, every pastime now seems up for sanctification, and every practitioner is suddenly a brave warrior snubbing his nose at death while gaining a deeper appreciation of life. Maybe we can next look forward to films about the Zen of monster truck pulls, or the spirituality of skeet shooting.

Had Brown simply focused on the cheap thrills of the racing in his impressive helicopter shots, the film might have shaken some of its self-aggrandizing pretense and been satisfied with just being a sensation-packed thrill ride. Opens Fri., April 22, at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.



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