In the summer of 1995, a bunch of strangers got together at a Nissan dealership in Longview Texas to see who would win a brand new truck via the popular-at-the-time method of seeing who could stand there the longest with their hand on the truck. One contestant, Benny, had won the contest a few years earlier, but since the way the contestants were chosen was to draw their names out of a box, he was allowed to enter again. Not only did he have the best lines when interviewed, but his mere presence caused some excellent human drama as the contestants were divided on whether he should even be allowed to enter, and a few of them used him as motivation because they were determined not to let him win.
Some of Benny’s lines included, “let’s go through the night and see what transgresses,” “if you can’t run with the big dogs stay on the porch,” and a long monologue involving the 1986 movie The Highlander as a metaphor (or maybe it was a simile) representing how you feel when someone drops out of the contest: he felt sorry for them, but also had a surge of energy. Spoiler alert: Benny does not win the second time. At some point he was feeling so awful and tired from standing there for three days that someone called in and requested “I’d Be Better Off In A Pine Box” to the radio station that was sponsoring the contest, and the “fuck you” look on Benny’s face was right up there with some of his best lines.
I don’t mean to make fun of the guy, or anyone in this movie, and I have to add that I don’t find it to be inherently funny when people exist who are working class and from the south the way some people do. Benny had some great philosophical points about the contest and basically makes the movie what it is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this movie, but I definitely feel like I’ve met the people in the movie, and it’s the main reason (along with Sherman’s March) that I prefer documentaries about normal people doing weird things as opposed to high-profile historical events being profiled. I can read about that stuff in a book, but to be there in spirit experiencing what people will go through to win a free truck takes a guy with a video camera and a lot of free time. I think the best part is when a former winner observing said that at some point during her contest she felt like that car dealership where they were standing was the only place in the world, and I’ve never heard anyone else put that into words but that’s the way I always felt when I was busy at work, especially at night. Basically, there is something everyone can relate to in Hands on a Hardbody. It’s the American Movie of contests, and slightly better than any of the Christopher Guest mockumentaries due to its authenticity. But only slightly.
I was traveling around in Texas in the summer of 1995 with my ex girlfriend, and I was shocked that most of it basically looked like Georgia, where I am from. I remember a friend laughing his ass off at me when I said that, and asking me if I had expected to see businessmen in cowboy hats. Anyway, the soundtrack of that summer was the same music playing on the radio in this film, which was part of the last few years of decent country music, so I feel pretty nostalgic for that time in my life when I was 20 and had no responsibilities but to go on a road trip with my girlfriend. I have to say that I never realized what a range Doug Stone had when he sang Better Off In A Pine Box. There was no key I could put it in that sounded good, but it’s such an overwrought song juxtaposed with Benny standing there looking into the camera reacting to that lady calling to dedicate it to him that I couldn’t leave my karaoke sing off of this project.