J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Winning: the Racing Life of Paul Newman

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were way too classy to ever appear in a reality TV show. However, for decades racing fans were able to get a good close look at Newman that was entirely different from what the one could glean from the glossy entertainment magazines. He was a competitor through and through, who is fondly remembered by his colleagues and teammates in Adam Carolla’s Winning: the Racing Life of Paul Newman (trailer here), co-directed by Nate Adams, which releases on VOD this Friday.

Winning was a 1969 Newman-Woodward vehicle that was reasonably successful at the box office, but it had special significance in Newman’s life. In preparation to play Frank Capua, Newman was sent to racing school, where he quickly discovered a real aptitude for driving. It quickly became a passion. As a successful movie star, Newman could indulge an eccentric hobby, but it eventually became a bona fide second career.

Throughout Winning the documentary, Newman’s former rivals give him credit for putting in the time and effort to develop his skills. He was willing to lose a lot of races before he started winning. He was legit, coming in first in his class and second overall at the 1979 Le Mans (the subject of the 1971 Steve McQueen movie). Frankly, it is really cool how to hear how Newman became an accepted and respected part of the racing world.

Believe or not, Carolla is building an impressive portfolio as a filmmaker. Following up the solidly entertaining Road Hard, the comedian (who collects and restores Newman’s former vehicles) has assembled a first-rate sports doc. Fans should understand, there is not much material concerning his film career here, besides Winning and the Pixar animated film Cars, for which Newman voiced the character of the Hudson Hornet. However, Carolla did score a sit-down with an old Newman friend and co-star by the name of Robert Redford.

Winning (2015) also features interviews with Winning (1969) co-star Robert Wagner, Cars director John Lasseter, both Mario and Michael Andretti, and trailblazing African American driver Willy T. Ribbs, who credits Newman’s support for his big break in motorsports. Sometimes amusing and other times revealing, their anecdotes paint a compelling portrait of Newman the sportsman.

It is just great to have a new Paul Newman film nearly seven years after his death. However, Carolla’s interview subjects make it pretty clear Newman’s zeal for racing necessarily resulted in fewer films for posterity. On the other hand, he therefore chose projects with a discernment that well served his cinematic legacy. Wholly entertaining and surprisingly insightful, Winning: the Racing Life of Paul Newman is highly recommended for fans of the man and the sport when it launches on VOD this Friday (5/22). Fittingly, it will also have a special screening at the Indiana State Museum IMAX Theater in Indianapolis on the same night.

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