“Seven Second Love Affair”: A Les Blank-lensed top fuel doc with a Canned Heat soundtrack

By on July 31, 2015

We’ve recently featured a few posts about cinéma vérité documentary filmmaker Les Blank, but today we thought we’d show you a clip from The Seven Second Love Affair, Bob Abel’s 1969 documentary about drag racing legend Rick “The Iceman” Stewart, which was lensed by cameraman Les Blank, and with a soundtrack from Topanga-based blues band Canned Heat.

No photo credit on back of print

The film is a study of the lifestyle of the drag racer in general, men whose lives are geared to the building and racing of exotic supercharged rail dragsters that can accelerate to speeds over 200mph in just a quarter mile, and about Stewart in particular.

This is just a small snippet of the documentary, coming towards the end (it clocks in at 52 minutes total), but you’ll get a pretty good idea of what to expect from this profile of the man known for more than fifteen years was one of the NHRA’s top drag racers, earning his nickname not only from his calm demeanor and apparently good sense of humor, but from the fact that he’d “ice” his opponents by leaving them behind at the starting line. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of Canned Heat’s music in this clip, but trust us, they do the soundtrack for the entire film.

For Seven Second Love Affair, Abel (who produced, directed and wrote the script read by narrator and well-known character actor John Dehner) and Blank followed Rick Stewart’s 1965 mission to set a new top speed during the record-holding Adams, Wayre & Stewart Top Fuel team’s trials and tribulations at Lions Drag Strip during drag racing’s golden days. Lions was located in the Wilmington district of Los Angeles, California, adjacent to Long Beach, and existed from 1955 to 1972.

SEVEN SECOND LOVE AFFAIR 5

Stewart once described what his life was like from him back then this way:

“A typical weekend would be Friday night down at Carlsbad, Saturday night at Lions Drag Strip, Sunday from 11-3 p.m. at San Fernando, Sunday afternoon at Fontana. Eighty top fuel cars would show up to qualify for eight spots and $1,000 to win. We were just thrilled we were getting $25 or $50 a round.”

SEVEN SECOND LOVE AFFAIR 7

One of the highlights of the film is the multiple-camera footage of Stewart’s wicked tumble through the shutdown area at Lions. Abel (who went on to pioneer computerized animation & special effects in feature films) follows Stewart to the Bakersfield hospital where he worked as an X-ray technician, and eavesdrops on racer Gene Adams as he prepares a couple of early Chryslers inside the simple garage that served as this famous team’s race shop.

Also interesting is seeing the just-completed, uncrowded “405” freeway, called the San Diego Freeway, which appears in the film.

SEVEN SECOND LOVE AFFAIR 8

If you missed them, have a look at the other posts we’ve featured on Blank’s films: just a week or so ago, we highlighted the films featured in the TCM cable network’s tribute during an all-night showcase of some of his short films, and a few weeks back, we featured contributor Chris Morris’s preview of Blank’s portrait of Leon Russell, A Poem is a Naked Person, which had its L.A. premiere the Ace Hotel’s theater as part of the Cinefamily “Don’t Knock the Rock” festival, which is still going strong this summer.

SEVEN SECOND LOVE AFFAIR 1

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.