Low Art: The first impression is that it's purely an interesting newsreelesque retro piece reveling in grainy low budget panache, yet delivering the simple point of gaudy beauty on two wheels for its own sake. A deeper look shows the ubiquitous human need to express and create. The focus of the film is the creator of "Low Rider" bicycle art, gaudy chromed creations that defy labels, as do the characters. The voice of the film transcends the artist's thug exterior while the bicycle transcends its most mundane attribute... the ability to be transportation.
B.I.K.E.: I have been wondering about how this review would come out since I saw the film last night. The bike scene portrayed in this film is about as far removed from my experience of bicycling as the surface of Mars is from the Appalachian Trail. Yet, as expressed in an audience question, deprecated by the producers, it answers, "Why the Bike, I mean why not a volleyball?"
We watch Tony attempt to join Black Label, a bike club in the same sense that the Dead Rabbits of the "Gangs of New York" was a club. Black Label is an accretion of social outcasts, or drop outs depending upon whose perspective you employ, whose life orbits outrageous bikes, outrageous dress, and outrageous behavior. Their lifestyle is one punctuated by the massive consumption of alcohol and other mind altering substances in quantities that would appear adequate to ossify a battalion. Once adequately lubricated our heros embark upon bike jousting. Sitting Six or seven feet above the pavement they attempt to dislodge (generally with success) each other (often both) from the seat of their "tall bikes" (multiple frames assembled to create stilt like two wheelers) only to smash assorted body parts into the pavement. Much blood and great times are spilt and had by all!
Yet under this veneer of sadomasochistic excess there lurks a certain innocence, or if not innocence, then at least a Peter Pan-esque youth that insists upon calling the assembled wounded, a family. Family it is, but it is also a political unit. Elections are held, votes are disputed and decisions are made. Often times unilateral edicts are passed down from the ruling elete, others are the result of legitimate democratic process. Babies are conceived and delivered, as are sickness, joy, and sobs.
And so the group moves on from joust to joust, initiation to initiation, road trips, jet bikes, drugs, alcohol, all the elements against which the group rebells distilled, and amplified by their pain and dysfunction. They fall prey to society's ills which are amplified in their microcosm.
Examined closely under the lens of the of the film and more importantly the lens of social interaction we discover their escapism, their withdrawl and yet their insertion into topics of interest to them. They protest the war. They parade in critical mass. Their art cries out for the attention of the society they denounce. They espouse indepence from oil, and yet they build a jet bike, and it works! Far from stupid, these are intelligent talented people who have chosen another way, outside of one I understand or could embrace.
The film is as fractured as the lifestyle. Yet, in being so, it intensifies the experience of confusion and anarchy. I am lost and frequently we are lost together. Yet I enjoyed the film, and I empathized with the family and their outcasts. I felt somehow priviledged to observe, voyeuristically perhaps, a life I could not fathom.
I had the opportunity to ask Tony, why they felt the question stupid, and he replied, "Because... What? They slept through the film? Or they are baiting us? Because it is the bike man, I mean its all there."
There was an answer offered from the audience and we agreed that it was a good one... "Because the bike is the first taste of freedom, the first escape from the watchful eyes of familial control. The Bicycle is the symbol of that freedom and every time we ride we experience once again that feeling of escape." So of course it had to be the B.I.K.E.
Yogurt vs. Gasoline: In a short film by the Neistat Brothers humor is employed to make a political statement. The vehicle (pun intended) of their statement is a '76 Schwinn Suburban beater bike, complete with dings, dents and an ample supply of rust acquired through much neglect. Our unlikely hero, a gen X Van Neistat, awakening to his alarm only to realize that he has only a few moments to swallow back his yogurt before he does battle with his foe. In a gutsy display of slacker bravado, we learn that our hero has challenged his arch-nemisis, none other than his brother, Casey Neistat to a race Manhattan, North to South from 94th Street to Franklin and Broadway. The catch is that Van will be racing on his trusty Schwinn while Casey pilots his hand-built 916CC, Italian super bike, a Ducati Monster S4. Using iconic symbolism of the Schwinn, a bike that every child remembers as their first taste of freedom and the Ducati, the sartorial icon of speed, power and excess, to make a poignant message... Guess which icon prevails...
PEDAL: An inside look, depicting the life, lifestyle and hardship of the New York City Bike Messenger. A life of supporting a family on a shoe string, and sometimes dealing with watching the shoestring snap. A life sorting out issues of destitution, substance dependence, injury without health care and life with little hope. The brotherhood of messengers is the only support for some who are part of this world and for most that is all they need. Living and dying by the clock for mere pocket change to get by, messengers have their own way of blowing off steam. PEDAL catches these messengers running Alleycat Races. Alleycats are adrenaline fueled rampages through NYC's busy streets via the fastest way possible. In defiance of the system that holds them down, they forge headlong down city streets narrowly squeezing between busses, darting through red lights within a whisker's breadth of demise. Peter Sutherland catches all of this in first person footage that makes a viewer's stomach wince and sphincter pucker in discomfort at the mere sight of the action. In a very personal and sensitive way, PEDAL captures this lifestyle in a crystalline form.