Last night I came across this classic gem from 1981 on the National Film Board of Canada‘s website. Sifting through the films on the website can be a little bit hit or miss, but I think they knocked it out of the park with this brilliant feature-length documentary by Robert Fortier. You can watch the entire film in the player above. After the first couple of minutes you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it is that we’re talking about here.
The Devil at your Heels is essentially a character sketch of the Canadian daredevil, Ken Carter. The film follows Carter on his 5 year endeavour to break the world record in car jumping. Carter intends to use a rocket car to jump over a mile-wide river.
The film lays bare various failures of the project, as well as Carter’s raw determination to push forward. Carter surrounds himself with an interesting cast of characters. He constantly relies on a web of financial backers, mechanics, engineers, managers, and lawyers. Carter begins to lose control of his own project as assorted stakeholders try to satisfy their diverging goals.
I love the film. The vintage is perfect, right down to the bubbly yellow ‘Cooper’ font that Fortier uses in the title. Many of the characters in the film have tremendous beards, much unlike the half-measures we find commonly worn by today’s men.
The film, along with the demeanour of Ken Carter, reminds me of another great cult classic from NFB, Project Grizzly (1996). In Project Grizzly, director Peter Lynch introduces us to Troy James Hurtubise as his efforts to construct and test a bear-proof suit unfold. Carter, like Hurtubise, has the outgoing, self-promoting, and slightly obsessive edge that seems necessary to drive wacky and expensive projects forward. I won’t go too far into the parallels between these two films as I plan to discuss Project Grizzly further at a later date. But if you like one of these films, you’ll likely enjoy the other.
I hope you get a kick out of The Devil at your Heels. I’m glad to finally get a documentary post in. I’ve been embroiled in a 26 part documentary series from 1973 called The World at War (Thames Television) and I’ll write about that soon. You’ll probably see more frequent documentary posts in the future, as most films aren’t 21 hours long and they don’t take me a month to watch.