By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Like many racing fans across the country, I saw the NASCAR documentary Blink of an Eye, which is based on the 2011 autobiography about Michael Waltrip, at my movie theater which is literally a two-minute walk from home.
After the roller coaster ride about Waltrip’s career leading up to the ill fated 2001 Daytona 500 and the aftermath of Dale Earnhardt’s death, I hate to be that guy, but the Paul Taulieb film had several production flaws.
Let’s begin with audio. It started with the tragic day at Daytona and boy there was some awful splicing. I know some of the lines from the Fox commentary to heart and when you add audio clips from different parts of the race, it’s jarring and impossible to ignore.
That immediately turned me off and knew it wasn’t going to be a home run documentary from a production standpoint.
Also, I’ve never been the biggest fan of NASCAR films using audio that doesn’t match the time period. If they’re showing superspeedway clips from the late 90s and early 2000s, I expect to hear the high pitch wailing restrictor plate sounds. Not the ones we hear from today at every single track.
I know, you do need audio placement for b-roll but it’s something I just can’t get onboard. It must make sense based on the timeline and placing audio that I damn sure know doesn’t belong makes no sense.
There were at times were the 2000s plate sound were placed during 90s footage. I love the old sound, but I can’t ignore that peeve of mine and that’s the blunt side of me when it comes to production.
This isn’t the only criticism I have with this documentary. The b-roll clips drew me off because as a motorsports junkie, I can tell what year the clip is and whether or not it’s ripped from YouTube.
Not knowing a damn clue what the film budget was, I could tell it was nowhere near the caliber of Senna and Rapid Response, both motorsports documentaries I put in tremendous regard.
Most of the clips, notably the older races and some commercials featuring Waltrip, were bright as day from the internet and it shows with the quality.
I get it, some aren’t archived on the NASCAR vault but it’s bush league to notice the video quality dipping bad. The b-roll of Waltrip’s early racing career I had mix feelings as well because they came off as obvious stock footage which I can live with because for what it’s worth, I understand it’s probably all they have.
Even some of photo quality wasn’t all that great and the inclusion of the Winston Cup logo from 2000-03 when Waltrip was talking about the old NASCAR ladder system of the 1980s (Goody’s Dash, Busch Grand National and Winston Cup) was a bit annoying.
The archival clips and photos from Rapid Response didn’t have those issues when I saw it. They were top notch and didn’t lose me like Blink of an Eye did throughout.
It’s a shame because I was curious to know about Waltrip’s long and winding journey of climbing the ladder and being accepted from the Petty family for example, and of course that dreaded goose egg in the win column after 462 starts.
Not only the quality was an egregious problem I had with the film, the chronology of the footage was inconsistent from time-to-time.
During the scenes where the number of starts graphic went from 0 to 462, they showed Waltrip’s low points in his NASCAR career, such as his wrecks over the years.
Here’s the problem, most of the accidents were from his Busch Series career including two that took place well past 2001 (ex. Running into Lyndon Amick’s car, resulting his car flipping upside down at Texas in 2002 and Joey Logano turning Waltrip at Talladega in 2009).
I don’t recall the two high standard documentaries having that obvious issue as the plot stayed in order.
Senna covered Ayrton Senna’s feud with Alain Prost and the tail end of his career without jumping all over the place with their footage. Rapid Response also followed the same structure because safety in racing is an evolution and it totally respected that very notion.
I said it in my last film column that Rapid Response gets high praise because it captured the main safety personnel’s background and their conflicts over the years that’s proven to save many drivers lives. When that comes out on digital outlets, go see it and you’ll learn mesmerizing things.
Blink of an Eye kind of struggled at times with its timeline, notably how it went from having a dominant race at the 1991 TranSouth 500 at Darlington to his horrific crash at Bristol the year prior.
I’d be extremely critical on that sequence, but the inconsistent timeline led to a nice transition from a low point to a memorable part of his life that ultimately led to a dream gig.
Let’s get over the obvious, we’ve heard the same story about Bristol, the tragic February afternoon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. winning the Pepsi 400 one too many times, but it’s part of the main journey of Waltrip’s career.
However, there were some tidbits I enjoyed the most were those two races I’ve mentioned.
Not many remember Waltrip coming close to winning big time in the yellow No. 30 Pennzoil Pontiac owned by the late Chuck Rider. That was pleasing to show Waltrip was a pretty solid driver when things go his way until a tire going down denied him a win.
I also don’t think I’ve ever heard the tale of Dale Earnhardt being the first man to see Waltrip after the Bristol wreck and say he’s a “tough of a bitch.”
Waltrip’s emotions recalling what “The Intimidator” told him was a strong point of this film. You can tell his friendship with Dale was raw and genuine.
Whether it’s Dale pointing to Waltrip at his debut race in the 1985 Coca-Cola World 600 or their trip to the Bahamas, there was some parts that was news to me. It wasn’t really all about Waltrip’s triumph and Earnhardt’s death, the film took time to show their friendship they had before Waltrip joined Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2001.
It was also fascinating hearing Brooke, Waltrip’s public relations, not being fond of him because of his personality. There was also the part where she broke the news that Earnhardt died before even going to the hospital.
Those were the positive highlights that’s stuck with me and for a moment allowed me to ignore the nitpicks.
Speaking of nitpicks, I’ll admit that Senna wasn’t extremely perfect. Yes, my all-time favorite documentary had some flaws. Notably, the scene where Senna was talking to Dr. Sid Watkins at Hockenheim about having the pole sitter start at a different lane to eliminate a possible disadvantage, but the subject was Suzuka.
Here’s the thing, it still works just fine because that specific topic made sense which was the strongest trait this phenomenal film had.
Blink of an Eye found ways to make it work but was it strong and impactful? Sure thing.
What drags my overall impression down are those issues and totally don’t see the comparison of Senna. It was well-done that enhanced the subjects and it significantly matters because productions are nothing to mess with.
You either hit out of the park or get some strikeouts and Blink of an Eye had mostly strikeouts on the production side.
I know, extremely nit picking but as a guy that took college courses about production and how it should be thought out years ago, timeline continuity and audio were my biggest takeaways. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves in anything media related.
I do recommend the film when it comes out on digital outlets, but be prepared to see those issues loud and clear and wish everyone the best to not let it distract you like it did to me on the big screen.