The Isle of Man TT has claimed over 230 lives since it began in 1907, and watching the new documentary TT3D: Closer to the Edge it's easy to see why. The bikers bold enough to tackle this 37-mile course do so at speeds of almost 200mph, barely taking their foot off the accelerator as they race down narrow village roads and lean into hair-raising corners. In Richard De Aragues' slick and frequently astonishing film, we meet a few of the riders who willingly put their lives on the line every time they take to the road. What drives them to take such risks? Is it the glory, the thrill, the danger, or some indefinable combination of all three? One thing becomes clear when watching TT3D – motorbike racing for these men (and one woman) is an obsession, and one they can never shake.
De Aragues has based his film around the 2010 competition, following a handful of competitors with varying degrees of fame and experience as they vie for the top prize. There's John McGuinness, the sport's current no. 1, who has won 15 TT's and is still hungry for more; Conor Cummins, the 23 year-old local boy; Ian Hutchinson, a softly spoken but determined and exciting young biker. TT3D gives each of these characters their share of screen time to talk about their philosophy of life and racing, and he follows their progress during the climactic races, but the film is ultimately dominated by one man. Guy Martin is the start of TT3D, no doubt about it. He's charismatic and funny, and his maverick attitude has made him something of a celebrity on the TT circuit. He's appealingly unselfconscious in front of the camera, sharing stories of masturbation and his mate who almost taught his dog to speak, and much of the film's subsequent drama revolves around his attempt to win his first TT race.
The inevitable side effect of having such an exuberant character at the centre of your film is that all other subjects look a little lifeless in comparison, and that happens here, to an extent. The other contributors to TT3D have neither the natural wit or screen presence to compete with Martin, and they subsequently seem to be sidelined as the film develops into a one-man show. Fortunately, all competitors are equals on the track, and it is here that De Aragues' film really shines. The camerawork superbly lets us get close to the action and expresses the exhilaration of the races. The 3D adds a little to the visual side of the film, but not much; the extraordinary sight of bikes crashing, exploding into fireballs and – in one particularly astonishing turn of events – hurtling off the side of a mountain (!) would draw gasps from the audience in any amount of D.
Most of the riders involved in these incidents emerge from the wreckage (relatively) unscathed, but some are not so lucky, and while TT3D may sometimes appear to be all about Guy Martin, it's another figure from the film who will stay with me. Bridget Dobbs is the widow of Paul, a 39 year-old who lost his life during the TT, and she agrees to be interviewed in the film following his tragic death. But Bridget is not angry at the sport that has taken her husband from her; she knows he died doing what they both loved, and she accepts the circumstances of his death with a grace and honesty that is very moving. In her scenes, we see what it is about this sport that inspires such passion in those who love it. The excitement and the heightened sense of risk go hand-in-hand, and if you took away that ever-present danger then it simply wouldn't be the same. Late in the film, we see one rider crash on the circuit and then have his leg run over by an onrushing bike, but he admits his first thought was to ensure they didn't dare amputate his mangled limb as he wanted to get back on the bike as soon as possible. All of these competitors know that death or glory lies around every corner, and they wouldn't have it any other way.