What Possessed Me To Make A Buick Grand National DocumentaryS

The idea for BLACK AIR came on Saturday, January 3rd, 2009. I remember that date because the following Monday, January 5th, I posted on every Grand National and Turbo Regal message board I could find. I used the Sunday in between as a day to reflect, to make sure that I still liked the idea before I started telling people about it.

(Andrew Filippone, Jr. is an NYC-based filmmaker and director of BLACK AIR, which will be screened at the Jalopnik Film Festival, along with a panel with the director. Tickets available here. — Ed.)

Though the idea that came that night was “Buick Grand National,” I’d really been thinking and reading about other things for more than a year. I was looking for a documentary subject and I wanted to do a feature-length piece, and my thinking had led me to the concept of dislocation, of finding oneself in between worlds, of being part one thing and part another and so, ultimately, being neither.

The most meaningful and important book I read during that time was Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez. Rodriguez describes the book as a “history of my schooling” and in it he talks about the alienating effect his education had on his family.

Every new school success of his (and he had many) widened the divide between him and his Mexican immigrant parents, who were both puzzled and threatened by these achievements. My favorite sentence in Hunger of Memory is:

“Ambition set me apart.”

That’s what I wanted to make a film about, that condition – “ambition set me apart.” And, on that January night in 2009, I realized that the Grand National was the way I could get to it. It contained that exact struggle.

The Grand National carried a family name – Buick – that made people think “doctor’s cars.” But, it could accelerate in straight-lines like some of the most prestigious performance cars of its day. But then, these comparisons to world-class cars were awkward because what we had here was still just a Buick. So, we’re left in this undefined in-between space, set apart from the world of stodgy Buick on one side and the world of elite performance cars on the other.

BLACK AIR sets itself in this middle ground. Over the summer, a Brian Eno quote circulated online. I saw it on Twitter. The quote is from his Swollen Appendices diary and it’s this:

"Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences (Roy Ascott’s phrase)."

For me, Rodriguez’s book was exactly that, a trigger. I’m not a car guy, but somehow Hunger of Memory brought me to the Buick Grand National, a car I had only seen once before, as a teenager in 1986.