Philip Selkirk’s documentary on the history of legendary Italian car company Maserati opens with the words of Winston Churchill from a speech delivered in Harrow School in the early 1940s. “Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small.” So begins a comprehensive re-telling of the company’s past – from close-knit family beginnings, through financial hardships, political upheaval and, of course, the many successes in the racing world and beyond.
With a selection of talking heads ranging from the descendants of the founding Maserati brothers, to racing legends such as Sir Stirling Moss and Nino Vaccarella, and Masterati super-fan and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, Selkirk mixes historical footage with an oral history of a company that has seen many upheavals in it’s hundred years.
There is so much footage to use from over a hundred years of history, and Selkirk does exploit this to the film’s advantage, using the archival footage in juxtaposition with contemporary images of the highly skilled racing world. At times, however, this feels like a backdrop for an unending list of names that are never truly given any further details.
This is a documentary aimed at an audience with a familiarity with cars and racing history, rather than a film for casual fans. There is a heavy focus on the technical details of the cars and their developments, with the narration detailing the minute changes to each car engine, or the tweaks in design. This attention to the details of the cars themselves, rather than a wider look at social and political changes that have happened both in Italy and globally throughout the past century, transforms the documentary in more of a corporate production that feels like something created for potential investors after a background of the company, rather than a commercial venture.
This is Maserati: A Hundred Years Against All Odds’s biggest weakness. A company that has survived two world wars, recessions, triumphs and failures has plenty of interesting and fascinating history surrounding it, deserves more than a bland chronological timeline of each model that has come off the production line. What makes this even more frustrating is the hints of incredible stories that are barely given more than a passing mention by the various contributors.
Considered one of the greatest racers in the sport of Formula One, Maserati’s Juan Manuel Fangio’s infamous kidnapping by Castro’s rebels during the 1958 Cuban Grand Prix is only mentioned in the context of the company’s activities during that year, a story that deserved more than a brief explanation. It is more than a footnote in Maserati’s history and an example of the truly bizarre and intrigued stories that surround Maserati’s existence, but are glossed over by Selkirk in favour of intricate details of the specifications of the various cars.
Maserati: A Hundred Years Against the Odds is an intensely focused documentary that is definitely tailored towards a certain audience of car fans and those interested in the more technical aspects of the company. There is nothing wrong with that at all, but it does feel like an opportunity missed when there another side of history roaring to be let out.