Monday, February 3, 2014

A riff on moving pictures

A couple of weeks back, I got an email out of the blue from Courtney Olive, who was a guy I interviewed years ago for a story on the 555 rides (Google it.) Courtney'd scored an interview with Lotfy Nathan, the director of "12 O'Clock Boys".

If you've been living in a cave for the last few months, that's a documentary film about a group of young black guys who gather to ride MX bikes in central Baltimore, contravening just about every imaginable traffic law. Their actions fly in the face of common sense (and, they occasionally fly face-first into immovable objects) but hey, who's judging?

Well, actually, lots of people. The film's a SXSW Film Festival selection. If you're an indy film geek, you know that's a. huge. deal. Especially for a guy who was essentially a novice film-maker. I haven't seen all the recent moto-docs out there, but I don't have to watch them to be virtually certain they're not Southwest-worthy. Getting noticed by the SXSW judges is about the equivalent of qualifying for an FIM 'Superlicense' to race in MotoGP.

Anyway, the reason Courtney contacted me was, he was hoping to place his story at Cycle World, and he wanted an email contact for an editor. I gave him one, but was careful to warn him not to say that he knew me when he queried them. I had a hunch his story would be good.

He wrote me a while later to say that Cycle World had turned down his article, on the grounds that, basically "it's not an image of motorcycles we want to promote". I hooked him up with, which did run the story and I feel better about that anyway.

Motorcycle doc news has been in my inbox lately. Two films--'Why We Ride' and 'Road Warriors: The Bleeding Edge of Motorcycle Racing'--just shared the AMA's Hazel Kolb 'Brighter Image' award. I guess there was no chance '12 O'Clock Boys' was going to get a brighter image award, but I am still trying to process Cycle World deciding to pass on what (I was right) turned out to be an insightful piece of writing about the movie.

I'm probably not going to make myself popular by saying this, but Why We Ride and Road Warriors are destined for obscurity; meanwhile, as Courtney told me, 12 O'Clock Boys "is a film for the ages." Cycle World's editor's didn't get something that Courtney grokked right away: image-conscious motorcyclists may hate the behavior in 12, but the things those guys get out of motorcycling are very closely related to the things we get out of it.

It seems as if everyone's making motorcycle "films" these days. My co-religionist Stephen Pate's taken it upon himself to call out the most egregious examples of this hipster phenomenon.

On the face of it, Stephen and I are both throwing stones from the front yards of our glass houses; I'm involved to one degree or another in no less than three motorcycle films that are in various states of development (or should I say, three circles of development hell?) And, Stephen's shifting emphasis from pure, high-level restoration work to a media-centric business model that I'll probably write more about soon.

I think I can speak for him though, in that what drives us around the bend is the way most of these guys seem to have settled on motorcycles because they make good subject matter. I'd like them a lot more if I thought they really loved bikes and riding, and after years of just living the life, felt that they had unique insights of their own to add to the canon.

Go-Pro is everywhere. Now, the camera that's ubiquitous wherever motorcycle riders gather is also attempting to become a media channel. I couldn't believe it when I saw that Marc Marquez had what seemed to be his own personal Go-Pro camera on the top of his helmet at the Superprestigio. I mean seriously... if there's anyone who doesn't need to record his own motorcycle adventures, it's him. His every move is already documented.

A long time ago, in a land far away I lived and worked in a beautiful National Park in the Canadian Rockies. All summer long, busloads of Japanese tourists would arrive at some incredibly scenic jumping-off point along the highway; they'd all troop off the bus, stand in front of some mountain vista, and take turns photographing each other, with their backs to the landscape. When they were done, they'd get back on the bus and drive to the next spot.

Ironically, a lot of those photo locations were trailheads, from which hikers or climbers or horsepacking trips (yes, children, there was a time before mountain bikes) set off to actually experience the landscape. But those tourists had their backs to it; the only time they saw it was in the background of photos they were framing in their friends' cameras.

"OK, got it. Here's your camera back, and here's mine; take a shot for me too, please."

Everyone who lived and worked in the parks was bugged by that phenomenon, although we knew that those people were paying our bills.

I may just be an angry old man. But most people who record every lap of their track day, or won't even go for a street ride without recording it, are so obsessed with documenting their ride that they're not really experiencing it first hand.


  1. Hopefully I won't get flamed to badly for this comment but; "Why We Ride" was not that good. Lot of self aggrandizing and how awesome is this but frankly left me cold. There was a YouTube video of some elderly Asian men recreating a long ago ride that moved me far more than this film. That was more of "Why We Ride" than the movie. I will watch this documentary, I will also bemoan the behavior and what it eventually means to regular riders in Baltimore. I will also marvel at the lack of regard for their own safety and the law. I will ponder the politics of a system that allows this to occur by subsidizing their lives making work an afterthought and theft like breathing. I live near Baltimore and like most cities it has it's good points. Mostly it is a cesspool of decay, corruption and poor management. I do not document my ride, I don't use GPS on the bike, and I have a passenger about 80% of the time. Yet I enjoy every time I go out. That's the point of riding isn't it?

  2. Totally agree about the ubiquitous GoPro. It's just like people going to gigs and watching the band through the screen of the iPhone that they're recording it on. A recording they'll probably never watch anyway..