10/16/12: The World’s Fastest Indian


“You live more in five minutes on a bike like this going flat out than some people live in a lifetime”

Roger Donaldson’s uplifting docudrama The World’s Fastest Indian, released in 2005, is a fascinating & joyous piece starring Oscar Winner Anthony Hopkins as the late land-speed motorcycle pioneer, Burt Munro. As usual, Hopkins is wonderful. It’s 1962 & Burt lives in Invercargill, New Zealand. He’s a 63-year-old, self-made engineer/motorcycle mechanic/tinkerer whose passion is perfecting his 1920 Indian Motorcycle for land-speed racing. His methods are as eccentric as his personality, using household goods & junk parts to streamline & reduce weight on his motorcycle (which he pronounces motorsickle), including a cork for a gas cap. His best friend is the 10-year-old neighbor boy, Tom (Aaron Murphy). His lifestyle is equally as quaint & eccentric & gross – showering is seemingly off limits; his love interest, Ada, played to perfection in a smallish role by Diane Ladd, asks him to wash his hands, and they’re visibly filthy in many shots; and his lawn has gone to seed & stands over 5 feet high.

But Burt is lovable & loving, and completely focused on getting to the Bonneville Salt Flats for 1962 Speed Week, but he has financial difficulty. He manages with the help of some friends to get passage to America for him & his motorcycle. And so the journey begins.  First stop, L.A. where he meets used car shop owner, Fernando, played nicely by comedian Paul Rodriguez. The shop is in a somewhat shady neighborhood, but the two help each other & we begin to see just how tolerant Burt is. En route to Bonneville, he meets Native American – what he calls an Indian in this period piece – Jake (Saginaw Grant) who gives him dried dog balls for his aching prostate, for which Burt is surprised but not shocked or outraged. And thankful! But when he gets to Vegas & meets transvestite, by-the-hour motel clerk, Tina (Chris Williams), and thinks nothing of it, he endears everyone not in the film in the same way he does the characters. One more performance of note: Jessica Cauffiel as Wendy is just adorable in this, her only good role to date. She’s young & cute and just loves Burt. When she sets up a little ad hoc party to honor him at Bonneville, Burt’s overwhelmed and does a little dance that captures the entire spirit of this fantastic motion picture in 10 seconds.

A couple of points of interest: Donaldson’s fascination w/ Munro is more than just passing. His directorial debut came in 1971 for the TV documentary short, Burt Munro: Offerings to the God of Speed. And, the mayor of Invercargill at filming & still today, Tim Shadbolt, has a small role as an Invercargill motorcycle community member & friend of Burt’s.

    

The World’s Fastest Indian is one of the most underrated movies in recent memory. It received exactly zero Academy Award nominations, and while it did have the misfortune of being released in the best Oscar year of the century, it minimally deserved one. Best Cinematography, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing amongst others come to mind. The film made its debut in L.A. on 12/7/05 and therefore qualifies for nomination under the Official Academy Awards Rule 2 (an English language feature film must be at least 40 minutes long, open in the previous calendar year in L.A. county, and be in any one of several proper formats – which I assume it was). The only explanation for this outrageous snub is that the none of the 10 producers submitted the Official Screen Credits Online Form by the defined deadline, which would make the film forever ineligible for Oscar consideration.

“But sometimes you’ve got to bend the rules a little”

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