By Glenn Kenny
In the beginning of “The Last Race,” we discover that auto racing first came to Long Island in the early 20th century, and that there have been over 40 racetracks operating there. This movie is about the last extant one, Riverhead Raceway.
Auto racing is noisy and not great for the environment. But it’s also responsible for a lively, eccentric culture. The director of this brisk documentary, Michael Dweck, clearly considers it lively and eccentric, and does a committed job trying to convey that. His movie has amusing thumbnail sketches of drivers and auto-tinkerers, regular Joes who work at unglamorous day jobs when not pursuing high-speed glory. (One is a bee and wasp removal and containment specialist, and some time spent with him provides the movie with a uniquely vivid scene). The track’s owners, Jim and Barbara Cromarty, are a sweet old couple much beloved by their community.
Dweck’s film also contains voluminous racing footage, shot from both inside and outside the noisy stock cars mostly featured. These scenes, largely scored to bits of Mozart’s “Requiem,” lean into a sensory overload that sometimes brings to mind Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 classic “Koyaanisqatsi.” Time spent with Barbara and Jim in their trailer office is slightly reminiscent of Errol Morris’s 1978 “Gates of Heaven.” As Dweck divides his efforts between elegiac tone poem and shaggy-dog ensemble piece, he introduces the business people — real estate developers and such — who consider the land on which the raceway sits to be a potential gold mine. Although the eventual fate of the track, as it happens — spoiler alert! — undercuts the movie’s title.
The Last Race
Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Marty Berger, Mike Cappiello, Barbara Cromarty, Jim Cromarty, Bob Finan