Story: In Longview, Texas, there is a tradition that brings out a crowd and results in some memorable moments, as locals compete for a grand prize. The premise is simple, enter a radio contest to earn a spot in the competition, then show up, place your hands on a pickup truck, and be the last person out of a couple dozen to remove your hands. Your hands come off? You’re out, whether its been five minutes or three days, so every movement could be disastrous. The objective is simple, but mental and physical endurance become issues once thresholds are crossed, though everyone seems to have a different strategy to overcome the fatigue. In Hands on a Hardbody, we learn about the traditions of the contest, as well as the colorful contestants themselves.
Entertainment Value: I’ve seen Hands on a Hardbody numerous times and it remains one of my favorite documentaries, as it is so engaging, but totally grounded and authentic. This is grassroots filmmaking and that yields a kind of realism we don’t often see, even in the world of true stories and documentaries, so that is a true compliment. This isn’t a slick, polished documentary with all the bells & whistles, so this is raw and real, as well as rough around the edges. While not as refined as some of its peers, the editing is passable and achieves a good narrative flow, while also letting us get to know many of the contestants a lot better. And that enhances the entire movie, as we know these people and their motivations, their doubts and inspirations, so as they battle each other, there is more drama and intrigue than you might expect for this kind of material. I find the movie to be riveting and always interesting, even after I’ve seen in multiple times.
The competition to win the pickup truck brings out a lot in the two dozen entrants, some bad and some good, but all authentic. Benny Perkins is given a lot of screen time, perhaps more than anyone else and he is always an interesting subject. He gives very candid interviews to the cameras, which really lets us inside his experiences, including how he won the same contest a few years before. He is humble and down to earth, but competitive and above all that, he is a fun subject to watch. Not all of those involved are given much time to discuss their personal lives and strategies, though that is because some leave quite soon and the filmmakers likely didn’t have to time before they exited. But we hear from many of them and all have no problem talking about themselves, the contest, and more, so we learn a lot about what it takes to compete in one of these offbeat showdowns. To me, this has all I could ask from a documentary of this kind and I give this one a high recommendation.