Now through Dec 28th, at Martin Moto, we’re offering continuous showings of Why We Ride. This widely acclaimed feature length film is now in simultaneous (limited) theater and DVD/BluRay release. It’s a contemporary 90 min celebration of the joy of motorcycling as told by the participants. Why We Ride offers great visuals and back-stories from all the the different motorcycling “clans” – from hillclimbs, to dragracing, to insane top speeds at Bonneville and all the nooks and crannies in between. Road riders too! It’s clearly a “don’t miss” for any, and every, motorcycling enthusiast. The gauntlet now being thrown down is this. Is Why We Ride the best motorcycle motorcycle ever? Some have labelled it so, others not so much. For that assessment I’ll let you be the judge. You can seen the theatrical trailer here
Movies based around motorcycling or motorcycle themes are a hardy perennial in the film world. We offer no real explanation except to surmise that perhaps bikes combine action and danger in a way that holds some elemental appeal to Hollywood producers. And the film-going public. Likewise for leading men. Did you know that Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Steve McQueen, and Anthony Hopkins have all, at one time or another, taken on starring roles as motorcyclists?
Why We Ride may, or may not, ultimately be acclaimed as the best motorcycling movie ever. However, we certainly rank it in our own personal “Top Ten.” We thought we’d share the other nine that are on our list. These are all movies we like. A lot! Here you have ’em, in no particular order.
We might as well start with what we view as the the “Big Dog” of motorcycle enthusiast movies, On Any Sunday. This timeless 1971 classic from director Bruce Brown (“Endless Summer”) adopts a documentary format while, like Why We Ride, attempting to blanket the many facets of the motorcycle sport. On Any Sunday does a great job covering the exploits of AMA Grand National Champion Mert Lawill, as well as some recreational rider/amateur desert racer by the name of Steve McQueen (who also help to produce the film.) If you’ve never seen it, you’ve missed a lot.
Released a couple of years earlier than On Any Sunday in 1969, Easy Rider told the story of a couple of counterculture bikers’ (Director Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda) transcontinental ride, on custom choppers, in search of “America.” A quintessential product of the 60s, Easy Rider gave a great big nod to the “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” feel of the era. In the end, however, it all turns out badly for Captain America, Billy, and their riding buddy “George,” played by a then young Jack Nicholson. Nominated for a couple of Academy Awards, Easy Rider has also earned a place in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry of those films deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
In 1947 some bikers kinda tore up Hollister, California and earned global notoriety for themselves, and bikers everywhere, by getting pictures of their “festivities” published in Life magazine. Then, sixty years ago this week, on Dec 30, 1973, Columbia Pictures released The Wild One. Starring Marlon Brando, The Wild One paid homage to the Hollister “riot.” In this imaginative version of the story a dark and brooding Johnny (Brando) and his motorcycle gang, the Black Rebels rough up the fictional town of Wrightsville. Brando’s portrayal of Johnny became an icon for the “black leather” clad biker for decades to come. And Triumph’s got lot’s of play in the film including Johnny’s Thunderbird. Campy but entertaining.
Released in 1979, Quadrophenia is a Brit non musical film very loosely based on The Who’s album (and rock opera) of the same name. Set in the mid 60s, Quadrophenia tracks the (mis) adventures of disaffected London “Mod” Jimmy Cooper and his full dresser Lambretta scooter. Like Easy Rider, the film is true to the 60s ethos of “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.” Quadrophenia features the requisite seaside brawl between the Mods and the Rockers as well as a featured role for english musician Sting as The Ace Face, defacto leader of the Mods. And, of course, scooters for our Mods and proper bikes for the Black Leather and Pompadour sporting Rockers. Entertaining but dark.
The Great Escape isn’t actually a motorcycle movie. Rather, it’s a WWII movie with a motorcycle, or actually a motorcycle ride, as it’s signature scene. Steve McQueen (yeah, him again) plays an allied POW who spends the greater part of the movie scheming an escape from his German captors. Without divulging too much of the story, he manages to end up outside the Stalag walls aboard a German motorcycle (actually a Triumph, badly made-over as a BMW) that he has filched. A chase ensues and between McQueen and his stand in/buddy Bud Ekins, they create both an epic chase but a truly famous jump over some fencing. The movie was one of the the highest grossing film of 1963 and the motorcycle chase scenes are never to be forgotten.
Released in the fall of 1970, Little Fauss and Big Halsey ,was in theaters only a few months out of phase with On Any Sunday. What a time to be a Motorcycle movie-goer! LF&BH is a little movie, with a big cast that didn’t really make much impact in it’s day but has a semi-cult kind of following today. Redford starred as a womanizing cad who was always on the verge of getting the next “big deal” or “factory ride.” Pollard, just a couple of years after snagging Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for his portrayal of C.W. Moss in Bonnie and Clyde, was the plodding sidekick who ultimately makes good and kick’s Redford’s butt. The great desert and road race scenes went a long way toward making up for the failed character development and semi lame dialog. The film also came off as almost a paid advertisement for Yamaha with lots of on-screen time for its DT-1 Enduro and period road racers. Little Fauss & Big Halsey was also one on the first credited on-screen roles for then super-model Lauren Hutton. A genuine motorcycle enthusiast, Hutton made news in 2000 when she crashed he own motorcycle outside of Las Vegas and suffered sever injuries. Despite it’s liabilities, this film is solidly in our top ten.
2004’s The Motorcycle Diaries documents, in an extremely entertaining fashion, an epic 5000 mile South American motorcycle trek taken in 1952 by a youthful Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Yes, THAT Che Guevara! We learn much of his journey of discovery aboard a sad and abused 500cc Norton, the unsung star of the film. In the saddle of the Norton we watch as “Che” studies the plight of his people and the pain inflicted by social injustice. Was he converted into a marxist revolutionary during the course of that ride? Perhaps, but in any case it’s a compelling, well written, well acted piece that features an old motorcycle as one of its stars.. What could be better?
Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins has said that playing Burt Munro in The World’s Fastest Indian was his favorite role. That’s quite a claim from one of the world’s finest actors. But then, Burt was quite a character! In the 1960s, New Zealand motorcyclist Munro showed up at the Bonneville Salt Flats with a heavily modified and “home grown” 1920 Indian Scout Motorcycle with which he proposed to set speed records. And set them he did, several actually. Munro competed on the salt a total of nine times and one of the records that he set still stands. The movie depicts his struggles to compete with a 40+ year old motorcycle and a minimum of funds but with heart and determination seldom seen before or since. Great story, great acting. Just great all around!
They’ve been racing motorcycles on the Isle of Man for over a century. Not on a dedicated racetrack but, rather, across 38 miles of the tiny island’s highways, closed to public use specifically for the occasion. Modern superbikes achieve 200 mph top speeds and lap the circuit at average speeds of over 130. This on a course lined, not by guardrail or hay bales but rather, by lampposts, hedges, curbs and stone fences. Suffice to say, its a very special circuit under attack by a cadre of very special riders. TT3D Closer to the Edge was filmed at the 2010 edition of the famous Isle of Man TT. The “on bike” shots will give you a sense of the course and the participant interviews will leave you with a strong sense of the people who risk all to do such daring things. The DVD cover says it all. “Spectacular… Must See.” There are two things difficult about this movie. One is finding a version that will play on a US Spec DVD Player. The other is trying to understand Lincolnshire rider, and fan favorite, Guy Martin when he speaks with his heavy accent. Both difficulties are well worth putting up with! Must See. For sure.
“Top Ten” lists are a very personal thing. Maybe we missed some on your list. Maybe we just forgot some. In any case we’d like to hear the pics that you like the best. What do you think with our list. Were we even close??
There you have it. Our ten favorites