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Chevy 100 film transcends mere marketing pap

DETROIT -- Chevrolet's 100th anniversary has come and gone. I'm glad.

Nothing against the gold bow tie and storied brand that became an American icon, sold 209 million vehicles worldwide, and all that. Marking its centennial is an important and valuable exercise.

It's just that here at Automotive News, we've been in Chevy 100 mode for about six months. Witness the 225-page whopper of a commemorative edition out this week.

So it was with some degree of Chevy fatigue that I attended the world premiere of the "Chevy 100: An American Story" documentary Thursday night at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

I figured I might be in for a glorified commercial in the vein of the Chevy heritage ads now being broadcast on TV. Well done, feel-good spots. But did I really want to sit through 90 minutes of that?

I was wrong.

While commissioned by General Motors, the film was produced and directed by Roger Sherman, a two-time Academy Award nominee, Emmy winner and creator of the 2008 PBS documentary Medal of Honor.

Sherman blends just the right amount of official Chevrolet history -- like the fascinating tale of legendary GM designer Harley Earl's quest to make the first Corvette become a reality, in 1953 -- with real-life offbeat stories from Chevy's die-hard fan base.

The film features the young members of an all-women car club in Austin, Texas, who favor black T-shirts and lots of tattoos, ripping out a rusty radiator from a '51 Chevy pickup.

It interviews a cranky old race car driver, John Fitch, who eviscerates that first Corvette, introduced as a "Dream Car" at the 1953 GM Motorama, as an unrefined lemon (it got better in production, he concedes).

The warts are there, too: Ralph Nader's crusade against the Corvair; the badge engineering of the 1970s and 80s.

For anyone with even a passing interest in the auto industry -- or American history, for that matter -- it's worth watching.

It will be broadcast on Nov. 21, but it could be a tough find on the remote. It'll be on the Velocity Channel, an auto-heavy male-centric channel launched last month by Discovery Communications.

Or, after Nov. 21, spring for the $5.95 DVD at www.chevymall.com.

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