A demolition derby love story? Is this possible? You bet. Thanks to documentary filmmaker Jesse Moss’ newfound interest in the only event that encourages the gnarliest in automobile smash-ups, he was introduced to Speedo, a demo legend, notorious for his violent antics on and off the track. Moss knew that he had no choice but to tell this man’s story and Speedo is the result.
Currently traveling the festival circuit with his film made up of blood, sweat and twisted metal, Jesse took some time with us to talk about his time with one of America’s strangest heroes.
Are you a big demolition derby fan?
I wasn’t, but I am now. I love the demo. I didn’t grow up going to the track. I only discovered it late in life, and I first went to the demo as a spectator. I couldn’t believe people still did this – smash each other to pieces. I thought the sport had died out in the 70s. What happened is that a buddy and I drove out to Riverhead Raceway with a six-pack of Rheingold, and just watched the races one Saturday night in the summer. The whole spectacle was intoxicating. It was a figure 8 demo, and the crashes were amazing, and the smell of radiator fluid, and burning rubber. And I thought to myself, “Where is all this rage and anger coming from?” Why do these guys do this?
What first attracted you to Speedo?
I met Speedo in the drivers’ pit, before a race. He was working on his car. Actually, a bunch of other drivers had mentioned his name. There seemed to be a lot of passionate feeling about him at the track. And, when I met him, I knew he was a true original. Totally un-self conscious. He was incredibly agitated –- he’s always like that before a race — and talked about how driving was an addiction for him. He said it felt like “nitro-methane” was coursing through his veins. And then he told me he’d been suspended by the track the year before, and I knew I had a character. Originally, I had intended to follow several drivers, but I got sucked into Speedo’s universe, his dreams, and troubled family life, and his obsessions became mine, and I forgot about the rest of the drivers.
Now that you know him better, how would you describe Ed “Speedo” Jager?
Speedo is a man of huge contradictions. And that’s what makes him such a great film subject. At times, he’s incredibly rude, crude, and even violent. But then he’s compassionate, and caring. He’s a terrible husband, but a wonderful father. Of course, he’s an incredible driver, and a really hard worker. And he’s a big dreamer. That’s what I liked about him. He works so hard, for himself, for his family, and he never let go of his dreams and, in the end, he finds what we least expect – love. Finding the unexpected in an unlikely place — the humanity in Speedo, love at the Demolition Derby — that’s what Speedo, the movie, is about.
Did he understand the whole concept with what you were doing as a documentary filmmaker?
I don’t think documentary film subjects ever really understand what you’re doing until the filmmaking process is over and they see it on the big screen. At first, they think “news” – and you’ll be gone in a day. And then you come back the next week, and they think “TV.” And then, four years later, you’re still filming and they think you’re crazy. Nobody, not even my friends, understood why I was making this film.
Speedo was prepared in some ways to be a film subject, because he’s used to being the center of attention. He races for the glory, among other things. The guy lives to sign autographs. But it did take him a long time to open up to me personally. At the track, drivers learn not to trust anybody. It’s very, very competitive. And Speedo had to overcome his initial suspicions of me. Our relationship was formed over a lot of long hours together at his garage and at the track, and driving to racetracks in New Jersey.
Do you still hear from Speedo? Has he seen the film?
I’m very close to Speedo, Liz and Speedo’s sons Anthony and Michael. They’ve come to many of the film’s festival screenings. And Anthony has been working for me this summer on a film project. It sounds corny, but they’re kind of family.
Speedo and Liz saw the film for the first time with an audience at the Florida Film Festival. It was terrifying for me, and I know, for him. But they really loved the film, and felt like I had been true and honest. Of course, it’s not always flattering to him, but he understood what I was trying to do, and by that point, had come to understand how important the family story was to the film. Also, he could see how the audience responded to the film, and that was meaningful.
Get the rest of the interview in part two of JESSE MOSS FEELS THE NEED FOR SPEED>>>