As with most sports, cycling’s portrayal in “civilian” cinema has almost always lacked the notes of authenticity that would convince a “real” cyclist they were watching something real and true. Quicksilver comes to mind. BMX Bandits. Both are delightfully terrible movies.
And then there are movies like American Flyers and Breaking Away, films that get so much wrong, but also capture a lot that’s right. I started, just before Christmas, to write a comprehensive review of Breaking Away, but it was ballooning in every direction, from a straightforward treatment of the bike races to the odd paths its stars took after the film became a surprise hit. What I had was less a review and more a treatise. And it’s probably not my favorite cycling movie anyway.
I tend to gravitate toward more documentary style productions, like Stars and Water Carriers, Sunday in Hell, and even Overcoming, starring Bjarne Riis as an ’00s team manager pretending to do more to develop his squad than dose them all with a fine reduction of enriched platelets, rhino horn, and unicorn tears. My favorite scene in that one brings us Carlos Sastre bailing on Riis’s workout for the day, and Riis worrying over whether the Spanish star has what it takes. Little did we know that his real worry was that Sastre refused to be transfused.
Road documentaries are fascinating, but also hold to all the tropes of the classic hardman. I would love to see a documentary on women’s road racing, if only to escape the cliche of a pack of noble savages brutalizing each other over kilometer and cobble.
Mountain bike videos, on the other hand, tend to be more celebratory, a bit looser and zanier. I have enjoyed so many, starting with the original Tread and ending with Accomplice, which I watched last week. That was less a cycling film and more a stuntman audition reel. Very watchable though.
Finally there are the artier pieces, like The Bicycle Thief and The Triplets of Belleville. The frog eating scene in Triplets comes back to me in late night nausea, not because the idea of eating frogs is gross, but because the portrayal was so, sort of, psychedelic, and not in the good way.
This week’s TCI Friday asks, what is your favorite cycling movie? Here I’m really talking about feature length stuff. When you think about it, it’s funny how few bike-centric movies there are, and odd that Breaking Away II – Electric Boogaloo never got made.