May. 28, 2008 - Issue #658: Beija Flor
Bike Month’s films offer the world on two wheels
A Sunday In Hell (TWO STARS, Jun 2, 7:30 pm) follows the 1976 Paris-Roubaix road race, a gruelling 160 km French bike race notorious for its last 60 clicks, a hard slog over narrow cobblestone roads and uphill terrain. The film features some of the biggest names in European cycling in the ’70s (hmm ... that was supposed to sound more enticing) and is alleged to be one of the great cycling films, but it‘ll be hard to tell unless you’re a tri-lingual European, since the on-location dialogue is all in Dutch and French, with no subtitles. There is English narration, but still, one wonders why the camera lingers so long with people who can’t possibly be understood by the film’s English target audience. The film redeems itself in the last half hour though, when the race enters its final phase and the remarkable athleticism and endurance of the riders comes to the fore. Pure sport, this last bit is, and the overhead helicopter shots of hundreds of cyclists jockeying for the lead as they wind through the constricted streets of rural France are breathtaking. Critical mass indeed.
The films that comprise Portland’s Filmed By Bike Festival (THREE STARS, Jun 9, 7:30 pm) are a mixed bag, but it’s a fun and quirky look into the cycling subculture. The films come from some pretty predictable cycling cities—Portland, New York and Toronto being heavily represented—but they reflect some remarkably differing aesthetics. “Bike Lane Liberation” follows a group of NYC bike activists as they stage some theatrical activism to “ticket” cabs, double-parked cars and others who take up the city’s bike lanes. “Unicycle Bastards Invade Portland” documents a group of middle-aged guys who take up unicycling (and spend a good part of their screen time discussing how bad the unicycle is for their junk). “Time Bike” is a low, low, low-budget little fantasy about a man who finds a bike that allows him to travel through time. My own favourite may have been the impressionistic, dream-like “Ski Boys,” which doesn’t have much to do with bikes at all, besides featuring a few nameless young people on what looks like grainy super-8 footage, biking through sunny fields and into lakes set to a soundtrack of dreamy indie-rock. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s an artfully constructed little reverie.
Bikecar (FOUR STARS, Jun 16, 7:30 pm) follows three snowboarders as they trek across the Pacific Northwest in a three-seater bikecar, looking for places to board. The movie follows the genial threesome as they bike through towns big and small, meet the locals, get pulled over by cops, get stuck in a mountain pass and get dangerously close to some big fat 18-wheelers on a too-narrow highway. There’s not a lot of “there” there—we’re pretty much just hanging out with these guys as they complete their 850 mile pedal-powered journey. But they’re just so damn likable, and the film is so well put-together, and of course the bikecar is so damn cool, that it gets a thumbs-up.
Pedal (FOUR STARS, Jun 30, 7:30 pm) is a powerful hour-long doc about New York’s bike messengers. Now this is a terrifying occupation, especially in a traffic-choked place like Manhattan. No wonder that it seems to attract a motley crew of the down-and-out, immigrants and the mentally unsound. “I’ve been in rehab, mental institutions, and even there dreamed of riding,” says one man. “There are guys who at first sight you’d think were complete fucking losers, but they’re masters on these streets.”
They know it, too. They careen through red lights, tear the wrong way through one-ways, and slice through intersections, slipping in and out of the flow of pedestrian traffic (not always successfully). There’s sure no love lost between the couriers and the city’s cabbies, who see them, with justification, as a menace. But their vilification by politicians, drivers and pedestrians doesn’t stop the streams of Mohammad Ali-like braggadocio issuing from their mouths, and it doesn’t slow them down (maybe it encourages it). For all the stupidity and un-earned arrogance the couriers display in their work, many of them are very clear-headed about the dangers and realities of the streets, and the film captures the speed and the rush of urban cycling perfectly (with the help of a handlebar-mounted camera). Urban cyclists of all kinds are used to the weird nether-zone we occupy in the flow of city traffic, not quite vehicles, not quite pedestrians, sharing an uneasy truce with both, but these guys are fascinating because they occupy the same outsider position in society. The best of the bunch. V
Every Mon in June (7:30 pm)
Featuring A Sunday in Hell, Bikecar,
Portland’s Filmed by Bike Festival,
You Never Bike Alone, Pedal
Metro Cinema, $10
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