Friday, July 07, 2006

Bicycle Film Festival Thursday Night

I went to the Bicycle Film Festival in Minneapolis Thursday night. It's Golf Night, so I played my round at Gem Lake (one actual sequence of scores: 9-2-9, the middle one barely missing being a hole in one. Consistency is key.) and drove home. It was about 6:30 and I gobbled down some dinner and thought, well, I can't very well drive to a Bike Film Festival now can I, and I can probably make the Riverview by 7:30, especially as this is a bike event and thus bound to be late-starting. I hopped on my Big Red Schwinn and zoomed off to the theatre. I usually move somewhere between a saunter and a cruise but now I actually pushed along, managing the 7.25 mile trip in just under half an hour, against a west wind at that. I was sweaty when I pulled up and there were bikes all over. Fortunately, they had Valet Parking for the bikes, and I checked in mine, one of the few with an actual useful kickstand.

The first feature was the movie A Sunday in Hell (available here from World Cycling Productions, who don't have a bike rack in front of their store) about the 1976 Paris-Roubaix race. Eddy "The Cannibal" Merckx was in this race, though he didn't win. Watching the movie, it was striking how old it looked. I was in college at the time, riding the Motobecane Grand Record that still hangs in my garage, a ten-speed with a Campagnolo Nuovo Record derailleur, just like these guys were using. There were loving extended close-ups of a bike mechanic working on a bike, extended bits of dialogue in French and maybe Flemish or Walloon or something, and lots of race footage. I have noted on the photography bits of my website how badly some old films, and particulary old movie films, have aged (and I mean the actual film emulsion, not the movie-making technique, although that has aged as well) and this movie was a shining example. The vivid colors had faded and the overall effect was almost sepia-like. Combine that with the 70s fashions (big collars, lots of hair, crappy cars, hilarious motorcycle wear, a Bicentennial t-shirt, some of the ugliest wallpaper ever seen by mankind, and on the bikes, steel frames, toe clips, wool "retro" jerseys, no helmets) and the movie looks like some ancient historical artifact, perhaps something that happened when my father was a young man, not when I was. It's startling to see your youth in sepia-tone.

The movie was pretty decent. A lot of bike movies tend to be really reverent and this was no different. Collosal battles, arch-enemies, epic rivalries, etc., it's as bad as NFL films, but it is a tough race, 166 miles, and includes several sections of wretched cobbled roads. There were some accidents and people's helmetless heads could get kind of chewed-up on the cobblestones. Towards the end, five guys break away. One flats out, but the final four make it into the stadium for the last lap and there's a sprint and a surprise winner. More jabbering in French, then interviews in the shower room with some very worthless-looking showers. It's a movie worth watching.

The theatre then had to empty before the next show, so we all filed out. I watched the credits to see what film stock they shot this thing on (I'm guessing Eastman 5454 or 5247, I have photos from a couple of years earlier on that stuff that look just as bad) but they cut the credits before they were done. I'd bought the pass to all the movies so hung out in the lobby and then went back in.

The second show was a bunch of shorter films. These varied in quality. The opening one is a clever animation done locally, about a guy who rides from Blaine to Milaca, a five hour ride, to see his girlfriend, who then dumps him. I'd seen this last summer at the Bike In at the Bell but there were some audio issues with it at that time, so it was good to see it again. It's spare animation with just a drum and voiceover but is very engaging. A short about some Brazilian stunt riders was cool, they were as pointlessly but dramatically skilled as figure skaters. A couple of the movies looked like my high school filmmaking efforts. A couple were really sweet, neither the overly-reverent Sunday in Hell style nor the full-to-the-brim of attitude messenger dude type. There were a couple of films about riding in San Francisco. I'd think this would be a terrifying enough prospect with gears and brakes, these guys do it on fixies or singlespeeds (though they only seemed to show them going downhill, not up). One guy has a singlespeed and brakes by putting his shoe on the back wheel. The fixie guys do it by leaning way forward to unweight the back wheel and holding the pedals still, which results in lots of skids. This probably isn't news to a lot of you. The tire makers must love these dudes. The final movie was a take-off on a 1979 movie called The Warriors. That's back when I used to watch a lot of movies (I even ran a movie commission in college) but I have no recollection of this flick at all. It must have resonance with some, though, as plenty of people seemed to get the references to it as an overnight team race goes from the Bronx to Coney Island. The write-up in the flier was a bit breathless, the actual event looked like good fun (people were in various costumes), but mostly I kept thinking as I watched this movie, Jesus Christ, get a freakin' tripod, will ya? Yeah yeah, I know, cinema vérité, documentary look, blah blah blah, congratulations on taking a film class, but the camerawork on this movie was pretty horrible and I closed my eyes for some of it it was so unwatchable.

Movie over, Wow man, that was awesome, now we'll meet outside and go for a group ride (just like the Midnight Ridazz!!) in about 10 minutes said the organizer. It was 12:05. I'm gainfully employed, man, so went out, claimed my bike from the valet folks, and rode off alone into the night, headed home. Put the bike away, have a drink and a brownie, brush my teeth and it was into bed by 1:00.

Overall, I liked this event more than the Bike In at the Bell last summer. That was fun, too, but started really late due in part to the four bands that played on interminably and the general oh man schedules are so fascist attitude that surrounds things like this. I liked the valet bike parking a lot, it was nice to be able to see the screen really well and hear properly, and there was no moon rising over the screen or dew settling on us. There are films tonight and Saturday too, and I'll be there for some of them. I'll be the tall sepia-toned codger.

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