A Documentary Like No Other:
The Film That Had to Be Made (But Nobody Knew It)
By Doug Nigro
Black Air: The Buick Grand National Documentary is the film that had to be made, but nobody knew it for some two decades. That is, until filmmaker Andrew Filippone Jr. finally succumbed to his teenage memories about those mysterious all-black cars that, like the proverbial phoenix, leapt out of the malaise of automotive ashes that defined 1980's Detroit and burned up the streets and avenues of his own home town. Permanently embossed in his mind, the images of the sinister black Buick Grand Nationals were the genesis that drove Filippone to grab his cameras and travel throughout the U.S. to weave the stories of these very special performance cars and the people who designed, built, and first reviewed them and sang their praises – those who independently and amazingly shared the same uncanny insight: each knew that this car would cause a big ripple in the fabric of automotive history. Along the way, we also meet those who love, show, race, and preserve them to this day. Most enthusiasts were hooked for life the minute they got behind the wheel and drove one of these thrilling beasts for the first time. And so it will be for the next generation – after all, it is as much about the people as it is about the car.
As far as the film's subject matter, leave all preconceptions at the (garage) door; this wonderful journey is nothing short of exhilarating storytelling that holds universal appeal for everyone from the most hardcore gearheads all the way to those who could not possibly check their own tire pressure without assistance. Filippone allows his subjects to paint the colorful picture behind the transformative performance machine that broke all the rules for domestic U.S. automobiles, and, perhaps more amazingly, how it emerged from the most unlikely of places: a stodgy old luxury brand more associated with barge-like boulevard behemoths piloted slowly by white-haired retirees. This film provides the factual insights into this once-in-a-lifetime alignment of stars and confluence of vision, engineering, and passion that gave birth to such a great car during a time that was otherwise stifled by relentless automotive mediocrity.
The 1980's were indeed a decade that most automotive historians would rather forget, were it not for the very brief, bright glow of rule-breaking performance epitomized by the Buick Grand National. Filippone captures this phenomenon exquisitely and goes on to document the model line's final sendoff into automotive history, an event punctuated by the ultimate incarnation of the Grand National and the most valuable U.S. performance car of the 1980's – the one vehicle that was just a bit badder and a bit blacker: the legendary GNX.
Black Air has emerged, not unlike its subject, as a fascinating piece of work that tells a remarkable story – one that nobody knew had to be told. Until now.