Achieving 'Glory' (Film Review: "Dust to Glory")

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
Achieving 'Glory'
Film Review: "Dust to Glory"

Mark J. Lehman
Assistant A & E Editor

Originally published March 20, 2005

Extreme sports has a new name.

Well, not really; the name, the Baja 1000, has been around for years. With the new documentary “Dust to Glory,” director Dana Brown gives a backstage pass to a single race that attracts hundreds of riders every year and pits motorcyclists against quasi-monster truckers, VW beetles—the old model—against million dollar dune buggies.

Brown, whose father Bruce Brown created the ultimate surf documentary with “The Endless Summer” and followed it up with “The Endless Summer 2,” has finally fully stepped out of his father’s shadow with the new film. To take a giant step in a completely different direction from his past two films, the breathtaking surf documentaries “Step Into Liquid” and “The Endless Summer Revisited,” younger Brown has gone from the ocean to the desert to film a 1000 mile race open to anyone with any kind of motorized vehicle and a death wish.

Admittedly, many a capable documentarian could take an event this exciting, ridiculous and dangerous and make a watchable film out of it. However, with his background in shooting extreme surfing footage through about eight different cameras filming all at once, Brown knows how to always capture that unbelievable shot that places the viewer right in the driver’s seat.

He also knows that even in documentaries, if the characters aren’t intriguing enough, the film inevitably will bore its viewers. So aside from the amazing cinematography by Kevin Ward, Brown and Scott Waugh do an excellent job of editing the film and providing voiceover to create several side stories to give names to the faces and life to the characters. From NASCAR great Mario Andretti breaking down in the middle of the desert to a young man called “Mouse” who wants to ride the whole race by himself on a motorcycle, the characters’ and the riders’ stories give the audience a chance to breathe in between action shots while keeping us interested throughout.

The only flaw in Brown’s method of filmmaking comes from his intrusiveness—that is to say, his inability at times to step back and let the grandeur of the film speak for itself. There’s no question that his sweeping shots of motorcycles racing across beach and desert at 100 mph are breathtaking, but his constant voiceover work commenting on the similarities between each racer’s reason for participation and outlook on life effectively allows him to make his point and then bash his viewer over the head several times with it.

Dana Brown is an excellent documentary filmmaker with the potential for greatness. While he has some things he needs to work on, his newest effort “Dust to Glory” takes him out of his comfort zone of surf-filmmaking and lets him explore the boundaries of his ability in a brand new environment. And his exploration has created a fascinating and remarkable film that’s sure to make anyone wonder.

Grade B+
[Los Angeles Loyolan web site does not have archives available this far back.]
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