The history of the creation of the Ford GT40 is no different from thousands of similar histories that have happened in the past and are happening now. Unfortunately, nothing special. Wikipedia gives only 539 words of dry text about it. No dramaturgy. Then how can one produce a 2.5 hour movie based on such material? What it needs is…
“Man who comes to my office with an idea, that man keeps his job. Rest of you, second best losers, stay home. You don’t belong in Ford.”
While watching the movie, my brain gorged on serotonin and dopamine. Cars, races, fierce struggle – just like in The Fast and the Furious. However, Ford v Ferrari is not about that at all. And after watching, having eaten potent drugs, my brain began to signal an obvious discrepancy. Whom the main characters were supposed to defeat in the fierce struggle, follows even from the name…
Stop! Now, who did Ken and Shelby fight throughout the movie? Italians from Ferrari? Or maybe unsolvable technical problems? Who constantly put spokes in their wheels? Through the mouth of Ken, the authors give a direct answer:
“And they’re gonna work out new ways to screw you. Why? Because they can’t help it. Because they just want to please their boss, he wants to please his boss who wants to please his boss. And they hate themselves for it. But deep down… Who they hate even more are guys like you, because you’re not like them, because you don’t think like them, because you’re different.”
Naturally, to complete the picture, the authors, through the mouth of Shelby, give a description of those “different ones“:
“But there are a few people who find something they have to do. Something obsesses’em. Something that if they can’t do it, it’s gonna drive’em clean out of their mind. I’m that guy.”
That’s it – the Idea! Raise the intensity of the struggle, add spice to the 539 words of dry text. The on-screen Leo Beebe, with all his intrigues against Ken and Shelby, is a character entirely invented by the authors. The only thing associating him to the real Leo Beebe is the name.
The war of talents: a knife in the back or a wrench in the forehead
A well-known “fan” of Leo Beebe said: “I felt in them what I called to myself “sham good nature”, distrust and cruelty hidden under the guise of courtesy. Typical behavior of bureaucrats: they smile in your face, but they will not miss an opportunity to stab you in the back. And in the movie, we can see a knife sticking out of Ken’s back. Twice.
The first blow was the DQ from the race. The second was the theft of victory. That would break anyone. Not Ken. After all, his goal is not a medal or the roar of an admiring crowd. He only needs one phrase from a tramp like himself (Shelby). One hat removed from a rival like himself (Enzo). Why, what he really needed was just another lap! But “the perfect lap” Ken had talked about to his son. He had nothing more to dream of. And no power could take it away…
The wrench thrown by Ken at Shelby is also for a reason in the movie. A burst of rage? Tantrum? A quiet storm released? Yes! It’s all about them, about the “different ones”. They even fought each other!
Two types of talents are pursuing completely different goals, living on different planets. And they even fight in different ways: some calmly wield a carefully sharpened knife and attack according to a carefully developed scheme, as a rule, from behind. Others rush into a frontal attack with whatever comes to hand.
That’s Ken Miles as he is, with all his unbroken, rebellious spirit of a warrior – in one rashly thrown wrench. That’s why Shelby has kept that wrench.
And it was precisely what made Shelby stay restless after the death of Ken. For six months. Only by passing a particle of this Spirit to Ken’s son, he found peace of mind …
Access to the body. Information as a weapon
The episode of the visit of Henry Ford II to Shelby’s is based on the funny “kidnapping” of the CEO. Thus, with humor, the authors have included in the plot a task from real corporate life, which is not mentioned in any management textbooks. Many of us tried to get “access to the body”, but hardly anyone went as far as kidnapping the CEO. And all for the sake of fulfilling their direct duties.
The duty of any leader is to inform superiors and subordinates. But there is not a word in the textbooks of what can be done with information:
- downplaying and exaggerating
- inventing and throwing in
- hiding behind something more important and loud
- holding and releasing at the wrong time
- dishing up in different forms
- harbor like a grudge
- etc. etc. etc..
In general, information can and should be managed. But future managers are not taught this art in any way.
This lapse is aggravated by the fact that in real corporate life there are always talents who master it to perfection. There is a Leo Beebe in every organization in the world, but we “don’t know” about it, because in management textbooks there is not a word about dividing people into types (see above). And not a word about the ongoing war between these types.
And no one warns that any leader, sooner or later, has to pick a side in this war. That is, sooner or later he will be forced to give an answer to one question. The question the authors of the film, through Shelby, ask at the very beginning: “Who are you?”
Comfort as a goal. Power and influence as a tool for implementation
The fact that the authors have formulated Leo Beebe’s goal is of fundamental importance. After all, only if the goals of management coincide with those of the company, one can talk of the success of the latter. And yes, it happens: people hired to achieve the company goals, often formulating these goals themselves, actually implement something completely different:
“There’s gotta be a sense of give-and-take between you and… you know.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Senior creative, Carroll. Just to make sure everybody’s comfortable.”
“Well, I’m confused, Lee. ‘Cause up until this moment right now I was comfortable.”
It turns out that Leo Beebe is not alone, he is just a member of a “group” (informal organization). The goal of the “group” and all its members is comfort, a comfortable stay in their chairs. Does anyone know of a company with a goal like that? But the “group” is not sitting idly by. It is taking all proper steps to achieve its goal. As in the above dialog.
Hence the informal links permeating the entire body of the company and reshaping its organizational structure. Hence the real distribution of power and influence in the company, breaking its formal hierarchy. Simple questions: who was really running the on-screen Ford Company? Who really possessed all the power and unlimited influence? Was it Henry Ford II or Leo Beebe with the “group”?
Just take another look at the way that always smiling, sweet, good-natured Leo Beebe holds Lee accountable:
“Have you talked to him?”!
This phrase can be placed in another movie masterpiece – The Godfather. And no one will notice the fraud! How did it happen that the marketing director of the largest US corporation turned out to be an errand boy?! Why was Lee ordered to talk to Shelby? Why didn’t Lee refuse? Didn’t he frankly sympathize with Shelby and Ken throughout the film!
The answer is obvious: Lee was afraid that the next morning they would find his “body with a knife sticking out of the back.” Think it’s my fantasy? An extrapolation of the filmmakers’ fantasy? Think these “fantasies” are far from reality?
Let me remind you the evening of September 16, 1985. News agencies reported a terrible discovery: “a body with a knife sticking out of the back” was found near the Apple boardroom. It was Steve Jobs. Or have you forgotten the way the American Icon got kicked out of his own company? Forgotten the way someone stole twelve years from the infinitely short time allotted to Steve?!
It’s not just the film’s double bottom that’s amazing. It is amazing how much information the authors have managed to hide there! It is impossible to cover this scope in one review. However, I am sure that any competent business school teacher or consultant, having analyzed this film piece by piece (and it consists entirely of such pieces!), in a day or two will tell much more about real management in real corporate life than is written in all management textbooks!
Today, you can hardly surprise anyone with smuggling of all kinds of things. It’s quite another pair of shoes with smuggling of thoughts. I mean those who are able to elegantly and imperceptibly put their thoughts right into your head, while talking about something completely different. Then, while putting things in order in your “attic” after some time, you suddenly discover someone’s thought. It’s like with a surprise hidden away by one of the departed guests. A box of chocolates or a postcard – just a trifle! Still, it makes your face break into a smile.
And I keep smiling each tie I remember the way I was caught with chaff the first time I watched it. You have failed to notice anything too? Take it easy!
Even the 10 000+ experienced people working in cinema have failed to notice anything. The Oscars awarded for best film editing and sound editing is a confirmation. After all, these are the only things lying on the surface. And these are the only things the “customs officers” have seen and heard. Everything else, as befits real smuggling, has gone unnoticed. …
Perhaps someone would think I question the competence and impartiality of AMPAS. But suppose I just want to emphasize once again the talent of the smugglers. Well, that is for everyone to decide for himself…
Touch of Eternity
Youtube is flooded with videos where someone puts a girl into a charged car and hits the gas. We have all seen the natural reaction of the subjects. And the filmmakers couldn’t help but know about it. And yet they took the risk! They took the risk to capture the touch of Eternity in such a “hackneyed” scene.
The little boy Henry Ford II had spent his whole life in the shadow cast by his father’s giant Majesty tree. It isn’t so easy, you see: to hear all your life that you are just an offspring of that same Ford, that you are the “second”. And so, in his forty-eighth (!) year, he approached the edge of this giant shadow, and Eternity itself, taking him by the shoulder, whispered to him about it.
Now the virus of the Idea “… What if the Ford badge becomes synonymous to victory?”, having passed through the bury-pasta-under-the-finish-line mutation, having come into contact with Eternity, has mutated into a clearly visible trace in history, with no shadow of the great father falling on it.
“I wish my daddy were alive to see this. To feel this!”
Speed, power, an explosion of emotions richly seasoned with adrenaline. Painful mutations of the Idea virus. The realization that you have finally done something worthwhile, something worthy of a special mention in history. And the quiet whisper of Eternity, its light touch, crowning the many years of attempts to get out of the father’s shadow. All this in one scene, in one episode.
These guys have captured the touch of Eternity! This guy – Tracy S. Letts has played the reaction of a person to this touch. Perhaps for the first time in the history of cinema. Isn’t that what Oscars are given for? At least for the very Idea to shoot this?!
And after all, the on-screen Henry Ford II is damn right! The GT40 Shelby drove him in is the only(!) reason we still remember his name. …
Bar of History
The Ford GT40 was first at Le Mans four times (1966-1969). This is the only victory for American automakers. That is why the GT40 has become a legend. And what happened next? The legendary Toyota Corolla – an import-killer. The legendary Toyota Prius – (???). The legendary Tesla — GM EV1.
The legendary GT40 is part of the history of Ford, and therefore an integral part of the history of the American automobile industry. From world domination and greatness to collapse and bankruptcy. And if the latter since 2009 has been lying alone on one scale of Themis, then after watching the film Ford v. Ferrari we know exactly what to put on the other side – the only (!) Victory of the American car industry.
And thanks to the brilliant work of the filmmakers, we have learned the main thing. The persons behind the victories and collapse. Those who determine the final result. Creators – Ken, Shelby, Enzo. And consumers like Leo Beebe, “the group”, the GM guys.
And no tears at the end. Ken didn’t want that. For a Warrior, there is no better death than the one that found him in battle. That was the way Ken left. The way Gagarin left. The way few of us left…
And it does not matter that one flew into space, and the other drove at Le Mans. What matters is that we have all seen the two “perfect laps“: around the Earth and on the Le Mans track. And that is magnifiscent!..