Competitive eating is weird. What compels someone to 'out eat' their opponent? Why would someone want to be known for extreme gluttony? It's not like competitive eaters get really famous or filthy rich - sure, there are prizes and there's some notoriety attached to it but is it really enough to make someone want to dedicate their life to what is essentially a really disgusting occupation? Sometimes, the answer is yes.
This brings us to Jason 'Crazy Legs' Conti, a strange New Yorker, born and raised, who makes his way through life by working odd jobs (be it window washing or donating sperm!) and by competing in eating contests. The documentary, Crazy Legs Conti: Zen And The Art Of Competitive Eating delves into Conti's history in the 'sport' starting with his childhood in New York City where at a young age he became completely enthralled by the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest that occurs every year on the Fourth of July at the landmark hot dog emporium in Coney Island. From there, as Conti grows into adulthood, he enters a few contests here and there until he finally wins a title in an oyster eating bout that earns him a world record. This sets him up as a contender, and from there we know it's only a matter of time before he takes his shot at the big time by entering the Nathan's contest that inspired him to explore this path in the first place.
Conti is an interesting character. He sort of floats through life by taking these different jobs here and there to pay the bills but shows no real dedication to his employment at any given time. In fact, it's almost as if whatever particular jobs he's working at any particular time is little more than a joke to him. The only things in life that he seems to take seriously are the eating contests. This, obviously, sets him apart from your average American, most of who tend to be very job focused and career minded in this day and age. That said, if Conti's choice in life hasn't afforded him a life of luxury or bought him a three-bedroom house with a two-car garage, it does seem to make the guy happy. His passion for cramming his mouth full of whatever food you can name is actually fairly infectious and while you can't really call this documentary inspirational (it's not likely to turn you on to the 'sport') it is at least enlightening in that it does do a solid job of explaining his unique view on life.
Adding further insight into Conti's unusual lifestyle are some interview clips with those who know him best - his close friends and a few select family members. Couple this with some interesting background information on the actual competitive eating events and the body that governs them (there really is an International Federation Of Competitive Eating who watches over these types of things) and you've got a documentary that's part sports piece and part freak show. That said, as interesting as Conti is, he does get a little irritating after a while. The director's seem to have picked up on this, hence the other interviewees and the competition footage that's used throughout the picture. The resulting film is as much a look at the subculture that the sport has grown as it is a peek at one man's strange obsession. A little broader scope with a little less focus specifically on Conti might have made for a more interesting and, dare I say it, educational take on things but as it stands this movie is definitely worth a look particularly for fans of strange sports and subcultures.
Crazy Legs Conti was shot on digital video and it is presented here in its original fullframe 1.33.1 aspect ratio. As far as the quality of the picture goes, it's not bad at all. Considering the low budget origins and the conditions under which a fair amount of this footage was captured things look quite decent. Color reproduction is strong and flesh tones look lifelike. Black levels waver a little bit in spots but there aren't any issues with dirt or debris on the image. A bit of edge enhancement and shimmering can be seen here and there but thankfully it's minor even in the more noticeable instances. Overall, this isn't a reference quality picture but for a fringe documentary, it looks quite good.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track on this DVD is perfectly acceptable even if it's not particularly impressive. Dialogue is clean and clear and the background music used in the movie sounds nice and distinct. There isn't a lot to talk about in terms of channel separation and for the most part this sounds almost like a mono mix rather than a stereo track but there are a couple of spots where both channels are used. Overall, there aren't any issues here. Things sound fine.
The main supplement on this release comes in the form of a full-length commentary courtesy of co-producers/co-directors Chris Kenneally Danielle Franco who are joined by Jason Conti himself. Although they cover some of the same ground that is covered in the feature itself, here things are elaborated on a little bit more and in addition to some extra biographical and anecdotal stories from Conti we also get told about some of the logistical issues that were involved in putting the movie together as well as what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish with the project. This commentary carries over to the deleted scenes section, where we're treated to six scenes that run for just over seventeen minutes in length. Most of these were cut for pacing reasons but they're worth checking out if you enjoyed the feature presentation.
From there, check out a few little shorts and featurettes on some of the restaurants and locations where the competitions took place and other strange snippets that give us a deeper look into Conti's life and ambitions. The titles more or less explain what these shorts contain: A Tour Of Coleman's Bar And Grill, The Nude Washing Stunt (Conti provides commentary over this), Home Movie, Eat New York: The Lower East Side, I Love Pizza Parts 1 And 2, and finally, A Streetcar Named Desire (again with optional Conti commentary). Rounding out the extras are a nine minute question and answer session with Little Jimmy, a still gallery, animated menus and chapter stops.
Crazy Legs Conti: Zen And The Art Of Competitive Eating is an interesting look into what makes a man want to cram as much food down his throat in as short a period as possible. Conti is certainly an odd duck, but as the movie progresses it's hard not to develop a certain affinity for the man. Blue Underground's DVD presentation loads the disc with extras and presents the movie in decent quality, earning this one a recommendation.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.