Review of "Life on the Limit (DVD)"

published 15/06/2016 | thedevilinme
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"Mad dogs and Englishman go out on the midday racetrack..."

Bonkers design

Bonkers design

Star – F1
Genre – Documentary > Sport
Run Time – 112 minutes
Certificate – 18
Country – USA
Awards – Nominations 1
Amazon – £5.93 DVD
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I was amazed to see Formula 1 has recently signed a multi-million deal with Heineken Beer, especially as they have banned cigarette sponsorship in recent decades. One corner at last weeks Canadian Grand Prix was as green and emblazoned as a tacky St Patrick’s Day pub promotion. Drinking a six pack of beer behind the wheel has to be far worse than a fag at the wheel! What they haven’t banned is excellence on the track and characters off it. Formula One is packed full of attractive glamour, girls, shunts and heroes, and nearly all of those packed into this enjoyable documentary. But the sport is very dangerous and a lot of the greats are no longer with us, only a handful of drivers and the still pretty wives polishing the trophies to tell their stories. From the playboys of Hunt and Hill to the genius of Senna and Fangio here is a film that looks at safety and fete that would dictate their careers and often short lives. In the late 1970s the drivers had a one-in-four chance of death every season.

There has been a few decent Formula One films of late with the rather excellent Oscar winning ‘Senna’ and the surprisingly good fun Rush, starring the oddball muscle bound choice of Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt, to name but two. The documentary ‘Life on the Limits’ maybe rather perfunctory in its appeal and construction and not up there with those two but still worth a look if you want to remember the good old days compared to the sterilized and over safe modern Formula One, the pretty dumb blonde of modern sport these days.


Michael Fassbender ... Narrator
Lewis Hamilton
Niki Lauda
Michael Schumacher
Mario Andretti
Jackie Stewart
Jenson Button
Sebastian Vettel
Nigel Mansell
Bernie Ecclestone
Eddie Jordan
Damon Hill
Emerson Fittipaldi
Martin Brundle
Jacky Ickx


Through talking heads, archive footage and narrator Michael Fassbender we explore just how far the sport has come from its somewhat ‘clubby’ days of the 1950s when cigarette smoking greasy Latin’s won it in Ferraris and Mercedes, that of Ascari, Fanjio and Farini. In those days it was simply for 40 something playboys who would meet and race for a trophy and the prettiest girl in town, and champagne if the mood took them. It was the dream boys club and six times World Champion Fanjio was the king. The guys raced for bravado and not money and the fear of death multiplied the thrill of life. As late as the 1970s the sport even paid television to broadcast it!

After some of the slightly sped up black & white footage of those cars with the big steering wheels and coupe cockpits and so rolling over at the corner we got onto the sexy sixties where British and Australian teams and drivers ruled and only Phil Hill of America breaking that domination in the swinging sixties, drivers like Graham Hill, Jack Brabham and the great Jim Clark the legends. The first interesting fact I learnt was the cars were color coded in F1 back then with green being British and blue being Italian etc, beautiful BRM's and Ferraris growling around the twisting tracks.

We then explore the contribution of the great Colin Chapman, who moved engineering on a pace in the sport and made the cars faster and more aerodynamic, producing Lotus World Champions and Indianapolis winners. That speed accelerated the deaths of the greats and when Jim Clark died then suddenly the drivers realized just how vulnerable they were. Drivers like Jacky Iykx and Scotland’s Jackie Stewart knew the drivers had to change things as they and the cars were getting too fast for the antiquated tracks and so formed a drivers union to push for safety. If you flew off in Belgium you would hit trees and at Nuremberg you brushed rock faces at the side of the 17m track. In the 1968 F1 season there were four deaths in four months and two burnt alive.

The sideburns seventies bought an eclectic mix of champions from all over the world, Britain’s James Hunt to Emerson Fittipladi of Brazil to Jody Schechter of South Africa in Ferraris, Tyrell’s and Lotus. It was the time of Bernie Eclestone’s increasing control and that radical car design, from huge and silly aerofoils to the bizarre six - wheel Tyrell. One driver thought he would go faster on the straight without his wing and instructed his pit crew to remove it as they started breaking off during the race anyway. But you can’t go around corners at speed without down force and he was dead 17 minutes later. There is plenty of brutal crash footage in the film. Sadly, although spectators won’t admit it, many went to the races to see the shunts and death. They, to, felt more alive when witnessing horrible death. When Roger Williamson was burnt alive on live TV the spectators remained transfixed and couldn’t look away.

The British cars were winning in the 1980s but not the British drivers, Senna and Prost the stars. It’s noticeable that since we joined the European Union proper its Germany and Italian cars that took over, just two British World Champions and cars in 15 years now. But safety had improved radically, in car design and tracks, the terrible death of Senna and Ratzenburger in 1994 a thing of the past. The next death would be Jules Bianchi, ironically hitting a recovery crane that was part of the new safety measures twenty years later. The parents are suing on healthy & safety grounds and the sport along way from its crazy reckless days of the 1950s to the 1970s that would never even consider lawyers. In those days many drivers wouldn’t wear seat belts as they wanted to be thrown clear of burning wreckage.


I enjoyed this enough to recommend. Yes you have seen most of the crashes and triumphant footage and know the stories but still an interesting watch with new facts to learn. I used to go to the races in the 1980s like Silverstone, Zandvort and Belgium and great to bring back those exciting memories. If you have been to an F1 race you know it’s the center of the world at that time and place. Its still amazes me to see the brave and somewhat stupid drivers were in those black & white days flying off at the corners and many being decapitated. Thankfully you don’t see that stuff. Seeing the modern cars flying through the air crashes like Martin Brundell in Australia in 2001 and Alonso this year amazes you even more on just how safe these cars are. Today the sport is simply a rotating advertising board you see in town centers.

Fassbender’s narration is as Irish as ever although doesn’t really work in context of the film. All the big name drivers still alive or racing today or recently racing add their talking head opinion and comes across they do still miss the old days when their was real risk and it wasn’t all about money. You can see in Lewis Hamilton’s twinkly eyes and smile that he would have loved the 1980s up against Senna and Lauda. The thrill of motorsport is that speed and being on the edge and then surviving going over the edge to fight another day. Girls are turned on big time by men who take risk and in the public eye and live for the day. You also find these men stop winning when they have kids and get married with mortgages as the sport is a very selfish one and that’s where winning comes from.

Its not just any old footage stuck together and there is structure here. In ‘Senna’ the filmmaker skillfully puts it together with no narration and that works but here it’s a respectful tone as you see death and serious injury in its context. The Soundtrack is cool and you can’t argue with the presentation of that old footage. The only negative is it lack that new material the Senna film had and the drivers shown as two dimensional party boys attracted to pretty girls and laurels around their necks for being those simplistic alpha males, which they are clearly not. Formula One drivers are some of the fittest and most intelligent sportsmen in the world now.

RATINGS – 8.0/10.0 (2,435votes)


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Comments on this review

  • SJS2011 published 12/07/2016
    Great review!
  • ccmccartney published 03/07/2016
    Great piece
  • Secre published 21/06/2016
    Nicely done
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Product Information : Life on the Limit (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Sub Genre: Entertainment Documentaries

Sub Sub Genre: Sports

Classification: 12 years and over

Director(s): Paul Crowder

DVD Region: DVD

Production Year: 2013

EAN: 5055201826213


Listed on Ciao since: 11/06/2016