Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The unbearable dearth of cinematic cycling

Image of cinema marquee advertising a Bicycle Film Festival
Bicyclists are accustomed to being marginalized in the media. Especially the broadcast media, which almost never features bicycling in plots, settings, storylines, or characters. Television news enthusiastically covers every gas price hike or traffic situation affecting motorists, which is understandable considering that a huge percentage of TV advertising revenue comes from car makers, oil companies, tire manufacturers, vehicle insurers, and auto loan companies. Just count the commercials next time you watch.

The print media is only slightly better, for instance with recent articles in the San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, or the Sacramento Bee. But for the most part, unless bicyclists are killed on the road, impeding car traffic with Critical Mass, or winning the Tour de France, bicycling is largely invisible in the American media. (An interesting exception I've seen are commercials for suburban retirement communities featuring smiling, bike-riding senior couples--bicycling being emblamatic of happy active lifestyles.)

The situation may be even worse in cinema. Generally, when bicyclists appear on celluloid, they are presented as marginal outcasts or eccentrics. In films such as The 40-Year-Old Virginor In & Out(1997, starring Kevin Kline), the films use bike commuting to accentuate the main character's idiosyncrasy. Or the so-bad-it's-hilarious 1986 Kevin Bacon vehicle, Quicksilver, which manages to insult both stockbrokers and bike messengers in one swoop. In The Wizard of Oz, what does the Wicked Witch ride when she's not on her broom? A bicycle (as her Kansas alter-ego).

There have been a few outstanding bicycling films, to be sure. My favorites include the standout classic Academy Award-winning Breaking Away (1979, directed by Peter Yates and starring a young Dennis Quaid), the great bike racing film American Flyers (1985, directed by John Badham, starring a young Kevin Costner), and the outstanding French-Canadian film 2 Seconds (2000, directed by Manon Briand). These films feature bicycling as an important component of personal growth or recovery, and are obviously made by people with an authentic understanding and appreciation of bicycling.

I was pleasantly surprised by the 1985 film The Man with One Red Shoe, in which Tom Hanks plays a bike-commuting classical violinist and composer who, in one scene, heroically rescues Lori Singer using his bike and a two by four.

There are, of course, a healthy handful of foreign films (The Bicycle Thief, Beijing Bicycle), documentary films (We Are Traffic! & Return of the Scorcher, Still We Ride), and animated films (The Triplets of Belleville, Pee-wee's Big Adventure) that present bicycling in a sympathetic light.

There are many young filmmakers out there producing short films on bikes or bicycling. Many of these films are featured in festivals, such as the acclaimed Bicycle Film Festival. I'm generally disappointed that many of these films are overly romanticized portrayals of bike racers or bike messengers--understandably appealing, perhaps, to younger cineastes. These difficult bike professions are important, but they represent a tiny minority of all bicyclists. And YouTube has an abundance of bike shorts.

There are many other films that feature bicycling, to be sure. But for the most part bicycling is sadly absent from Hollywood production. Send me your favorite bike film suggestions.


Visit: Dude, Where's Your Car? How not having a car became Hollywood shorthand for loser, Slate.com
Visit: MASSBike Film List
Visit: My "Breaking Away" Tribute Page, Diablo Scott's Bike Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

1 comment:

Chris said...

E.T. has the great bike chase scene where every kid's bicycling fantasy comes true...flying bikes. Goonies is another great film that has some cycling scenes.

And who can forget Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. PW Herman was a cycling freak!