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Uncommon Productions presents
Racing Against the Clock (2004)

"Until they scrape me off the floor, I'm going to compete."
- Phil Raschker, world-class senior athlete

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: January 26, 2006

Director: Bill Haney

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:19m:51s
Release Date: December 21, 2004
UPC: 851576001003
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- C+CB- D-

DVD Review

You've got to have a world of respect for the subjects of this movie—they're a group of women, all over the age of 50, some closer to 80, competing in track-and-field meets at a very high level. There's nothing in it for them but the thrill of competition, and the camaraderie that comes with it; they're amateurs in the best sense of the word. And so it makes me feel curmudgeonly to say it, but it doesn't diminish their accomplishments to note that this documentary made about them isn't very good, barely rising to the level of the Up Close and Personal filler pieces that have become a staple of TV coverage of the Olympics.

The film is structured around the participation of these women in the 2003 Masters world championships, held in Puerto Rico, and we meet them at various meets and training for their events: the 100 meters, pole vault, long jump, high jump, and so on. You can't not be moved by some of the stories: Pat Peterson, for instance, is 77 and a cancer survivor; Jacqueline Board grew up the child of sharecroppers, and could barely feed her children after working up the fortitude to leave her philandering husband. And the very participation of some of these athletes is really the story—just the fact that there's a heat for the long jump in the 80-84 age bracket is kind of extraordinary. (The oldest athlete is 101, and does his best sprinting down the track. Should I live to be his age, you can find me at the bar, mainlining Manhattans and ogling cocktail waitresses, for by that point, I intend to be nothing but a dirty old man.) And it's a triumph for the women especially, most of whom came of age when it wasn't proper for young ladies to participate in athletics.

But you can get all that in the first couple of minutes, or from the copy on the back of the DVD case, or even from the previous paragraph of this review, and unfortunately that's about all the filmmakers have to offer. Yes, we salute these athletes; but who of us has not faced hardship? Who doesn't have at least some emotional scar tissue? And should a documentary film crew be following around every last one of us? I don't think so, especially since the level of questioning here doesn't rise above, literally: "Do you have any good stories?" There's a pat and shopworn quality to the tales we're told—these are their stories, and they're sticking to them. The filmmakers also include some ill-advised athletic montages set to tuneless music, and you can't help but start asking questions that seem never to have occurred to the production team—for instance, is there truly glory in winning a gold medal in an event in which you are the only participant?

The most interesting case here may be that of Phil Raschker (a woman), who describes forgoing surgery that would relieve some of her excruciating pain, ignores her doctors' advice that she take it easy with athletics, and turns down work as a bookkeeper to free up her time to train, while scrimping every penny for food and athletic expenses. You cannot help but think that she's making some unwise choices, that she'd be better off giving her body a break, seeing to it that she's well fed and that the bills are paid; but it's not for anyone but her to decide, and if those moments of fleeting glory, of winning races that nobody watches is the most important thing to her, well, then, you've got to respect someone who knows their own mind. But the most facile self-congratulation is evident in the first frame of this documentary, and it's really all the movie has to offer, which is unfortunate.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Some of the video looks pretty degraded; the transfer is adequate.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Generally audible, though with a fair amount of hiss throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 5 cues
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Only chapter stops.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A simplistic Hallmark Card of a documentary—salute the fortitude of the women depicted here, but watching the movie isn't in fact worth an hour and twenty minutes of your time.


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