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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  10/1/2005

Movies, Movies, Movies

Did you know that the Fifth Annual Bicycle Film Festival will be arriving in San Francisco on October 5? I'm willing to bet most Bay Area cyclists haven't a clue. The only reason I know is that last spring I got some quasi-spam from them urging me to attend the New York opening in May. That was the first time I'd ever heard of it. How they got my name and email address is a complete mystery.

The festivities will kick off Wednesday evening, October 5, with a rock show and opening night party at The Independent on Divisadero Street. I may skip the rock party, but I'd sure like to see the groups art show, "Checkpoint," at Red Ink Studios, running from October 6 through October 20.

As for the flicks themselves, there will be over 30 feature-length and short films showing at the Victoria Theatre on 16th Street off Mission. Screenings will cost $8.00 (a bargain!) and, yes, there will be valet bike parking.

One film I've always wanted to see is "A Sunday in Hell," the legendary record of the 1976 Paris-Roubaix. Local Critical Mass supporters will certainly want to check out the San Francisco premiere of "Still We Ride," 40 minutes about a Critical Mass in New York just days before the Republican National Convention, apparently featuring police brutality, arrests and bicycle seizures.

My BMXer buddy Laurie will definitely want to see "Joe Kid on a Stingray: the History of BMX," as well as "Dogtown and ZBoys." (Don't ask me; I just listen to her rave and nod as if I get it.)

Bike movies rock

All this celluloid cycling got me to thinking how much I've enjoyed watching bikes on film. To refresh my memory, I surfed through several sites on the subject. Two in particular opened my eyes to how much "real" bicycling has been committed to film.

Doug Mink's "Little List" at Massbike.org goes from the "Obvious" to the "Not So Obvious" to the downright obscure. But Doug defers to the ""Big List" at Byke Kultuur Never, the brainchild of Seamus D. King and a vast compendium if ever there was one. And, unlike many lists of this type, it's actually updated.

My Two Favorites

Breaking Away (1979)
The definitive American cycling classic. Wet-behind-the-ears Dave Stoller, who lives, eats, and breathes cycling and everything else "eyetalian," enters the Little Indy 500 race at Indiana University with his townie buddies. Heroics, heartbreak and humor follow. Great footage of Stoller motorpacing behind a semi. Ever notice the illogical gearing he's using? (Me, neither.)

Rumor hath it that at least part of the story line is based on Wayne Stetina. "According to the story, after riding in Montreal he enrolled at IU, joined a frat, entered the Little 500 as part of his frat's team, rode the entire race himself and won."

Another trivia tidbit: The unidentified USCF racer who was star Dennis Christopher's stunt double is supposedly now a woman.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
Petit Champion a perdu ses parents dans La Guerre Mondiale. Il est tres triste parce qu'il est tout seul. Little "Champion" lost his parents in the World War. He is very sad because he is all alone. The only memory he has of his father is a picture of his parents "sur un velo" (on a bike). His grandmother notices his fascination with the bike and presents him with a tricycle. Twenty years later Champion is training for the Tour de France. But he is dropped in the Alps and picked up by the broom wagon. Plot twist: This broom wagon is a ringer run by the French Mafia, who kidnap Champion and two other riders, transport them across the ocean to "Belleville" and force them to race against a film backdrop while gamblers place bets on which one will survive.

The story is mostly about how the grandmother teams up with faded performers The Triplets of Belleville to rescue Champion. You won't believe who tows the evildoers' huge limousine up a steep hill on bikes! In fact, you won't believe any of it because you don't have to. This movie is a feature-length animation of exceeding creative genius (and I'm not exaggerating).

Although this a French film, there are no subtitles. There's no need for them; almost no dialog occurs until the very end, which is dubbed in English. Champion turns off the telly and says something like, "It's over, Grandma. That's the end." But it isn't. Stick around for the credits and see what happens back on the beach.

My Favorite Scenes:

Oddly enough, three cycling scenes I rate above all others occurred in one of the worst cycling movies ever made -- American Flyers. Directed by Steve Tesich, the same guy who did Breaking Away, it's a sob story about two brothers racing in "The Hell of the West," (a barely disguised Coors Classic). It starred Kevin Costner long before he became a household name, as well as Rae Dawn Chong, who is actually pretty good as the older brother's girlfriend.

The film may have been a real stinker but the opening was terrific! Wearing a cowboy hat, Costner lopes along a bank of the Mississippi River (almost presaging his horseback scenes in Dances With Wolves). The camera pulls back to reveal he's riding a bike!

The next scene isn't bad either -- Kev rides his bike into his apartment building, flips it up on its back wheel and rolls it into the tiny elevator next to a matronly type who is offended by his Lycra-clad (and no doubt sweaty) presence.

But my favorite part is the running gag about Eddy. Preparing for their first training ride together, older bro says they'll pick up Eddy along the way. "Look out for Eddy," says Chong. "He's a son of a bitch." Soon they're freewheeling past a farm and big bro hollers, "Hey, Eddy! You coming?" And here comes Eddy, what looks like a pit bull mix, rarin' to macerate a chunk of Costner's leg. "You son of a bitch!" he yells as he desperately tries to outrun the mutt.

Films I'd like to see

To my shame, I haven't seen a lot of what many tell me are great cycling films. These are the ones that would bring me out to a Bicycle Film Festival any day.

Jour de Fete (French, 1949)
Reviews tell me this one's about a bicycling postman (Jacques Tati) seeking to become a faster deliveryman (and cyclist) and features exciting and ridiculous bicycle riding in almost every scene.

The Bicycle Thief (Ladri di Biciclette, Italy, 1948)
An Italian workman finds a job, only to have the bike he needs for work stolen; he and his son search Rome for it. Many other cycling films seem to be telling the same story, including 2001's Beijing Bicycle.

Le Velo de Ghislain Lambert (France, 2001)
Labeled a "comedy" at Bicycle Universe, it's about a Belgian Eddy Merckx wannabe. His greatest ambition in life? To become a champion. His greatest tragedy? Not having the legs his heart deserves.

Messengers (Japan, 1999)
Okay, I admit it: The only reason I'm curious about this one is because the female protagonist's name is Naomi. As the title implies, it's about a woman who becomes a bicycle messenger.

Maybe I should have included "6 Day Racer" with Depression-era comedian Joe E. Brown, among a few others besides "PeeWee's Big Adventure" (yuck!). But I'm outa space and time. Meanwhile, see you at the movies!

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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