Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cycling Cinema - Getting Flicked

While suffering through the recent Academy Awards, it was impossible to overlook the fact that everyone has different tastes. It was also impossible to ignore my tendency to dislike most of the flavors on display. From the wardrobe choices to the actual Oscar winners, the entire event provided a broad spectrum of preferences for me to ridicule. Even though professional bike racing often leaves much to be desired from an organizational standpoint, at least it's not as foolish as Hollywood.

It is no secret that I often make stupid movie references when writing about cycling - largely because I enjoy both subjects. However, while I almost always like bike racing, I have not liked an overwhelming majority of films viewed during the course of my lifetime. I don't really count anything that I saw during my youthful "Star Wars/Muppet Movie" phase so at this point, I would put my rate of pleasant movie watching at about 20% over the last 25 years. Not a good percentage.

Not coincidentally, I haven't seen a single movie that was nominated for an Academy Award this year. And honestly, there is virtually nothing that could make me pay to watch 7 out of the 10 films up for the Oscar in 2010. When searching for entertainment, I have no desire to watch anything that will make me feel any emotions other than happiness, curiosity or excitement. Therefore, Precious and The Hurt Locker will certainly not be passing before my eyes anytime soon. I would much rather watch Enter the Dragon or Fletch for the hundredth time than put myself through five minutes of Mo'Nique screaming or people getting blown up in Afghanistan.

While cycling may not get as much play as cheesy football films with Sandra Bullock or feel-good heart-warmers about abusive mother-daughter relationships, WWII killings, and creepy blue people, it is not for a lack of effort. Regardless of my recent frustration with Hollywood, there have been some solid cycling-related films in the past. And besides, as long as they keep letting Robin Williams into these award events, we will always be one moment away from an uncomfortable “bikesexual” joke or Lance Armstrong testicle reference in the mainstream media. Thanks, Mork.

Obviously, Breaking Away and American Flyers are well known, and a few people may even think of Quicksilver as a cycling film, even though it is really more like an odd semi-Brat Pack kind of thing. I'm sort of down with the bike messenger scene (I did work in the Financial District of San Francisco after all, and watched them all hang out and smoke cigarettes at the corner of Market and Sansome as I rode to and from Marin...with gears) but for some reason I only remember Jami Gertz. The point is, there are a number of other less recognized elements of cycling in Hollywood history. In fact, although there have been a few memorable films dedicated to the sport, most of my favorite bike-related cinematic experiences have come from movies that covered different subjects.

For example, I was 9 years-old when The Karate Kid came out in theatres, and the main thing I liked about Mr. Miyagi was that he fixed Daniel-san's bike after Billy Zabka and his crew pushed him down the hillside in Reseda. I can't remember when I actually saw KK for the first time but I know that scene endeared me to Miyagi far more than him making Daniel "paint the fence" and basically just fix up his house. Any jerk can come up with chores but it takes a pretty cool guy to fix up a busted BMX bike for an Italian kid he doesn't even know and then kick the snot out of a bunch of high school dudes in the middle of the night.

On a side note, I was also always intrigued by Miyagi's willingness to let the pool turn into a swamp at the apartment building Daniel-san lived in. The guy had a full-on Japanese Tea Garden and a bunch of sweet cars at his own place but the apartment building he managed was a Katrina-level disaster. In retrospect, was Miyagi actually a slum lord or something? Regardless, I always respected him for sticking it to The Man (and John Kreese). Although The Man rarely hangs out in Reseda, CA.

A year after The Karate Kid was released, another great movie came out that had some memorable bike scenes in it. Of course, that film was Better Off Dead, starring a very young John Cusack, Winchester from M.A.S.H., the fat kid from Head Of The Class, an awesome Zabka-esque bad guy named Stalin, and the always creepy Curtis Armstrong (Lance's cousin) as the always creepy Charles DeMar. But even though skiing was the primary sport in the movie, one of the better recurring themes (aside from the AWESOME Asian dude that played the bad guy in Karate Kid II, who talks like Howard Cosell) was the bike riding paperboy who really wanted his two dollars. You know...sort of like a professional cyclist looking for a contract.

Even though I never had a paper route as a kid, I always sympathized with the paperboy in Better Off Dead. I mean, come on, the guy is putting in the miles so give him his money. Sure, he has a tendency to chuck papers through garage door windows, but there was probably not a clear "Accuracy Clause" in his contract, and you can hardly blame him for accomplishing his job with energy and vigor. Besides, I always thought it would have been much easier for Lane or Mr. Meyer (aka Winchester) to just pay the kid a couple bucks and get him off their backs. Maybe if they tipped the little dude, he wouldn't keep flinging stuff through their windows?

Anyway, I will always have a place for Breaking Away, American Flyers and all of the other documentaries and race videos in my vast media collection, but the less prominent role of cycling in numerous random movies should not be overlooked. Whether it's Elliott and his flying friends in E.T. or Ronald Miller riding over to mow Cindy Mancini's lawn in Can't Buy Me Love, the bicycle will always have a place in Hollywood. Whether that Lance movie ever gets made or not...
Wait, Precious is about a quest for the the Yellow Jersey and The Hurt Locker is another Paris-Roubaix documentary, right? Maybe I should just get Mr. Miyagi to true my wheels while I watch Rushmore again.

1 comment:

Sebastian said...

"Rushmore' of course contains some of the best bike carnage this side of "A Sunday in Hell."