We, as Americans, have failed to sufficiently appreciate and venerate the humble bicycle, which is why we all drive Hummers and 2012 is bearing down on us with global wrath. Or so I’ve been told. My point is that American cinema associates bicycles with bad people (think
Mrs. Miss Gulch a.k.a. The Wicked Witch of the West and her bicycle) or the poor and silly (like Jason Schwartzman’s Albert Markovski in “I Heart Huckabees,” pedaling his way through his daily futility). Indeed, aside from the French — where it’s just what the cool kids do — global bicycling is symbolic of dire poverty. (Think “The Bicycle Thief” or Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s “The Cyclist,” about a man who agrees to ride a bicycle in a circle for a week to get the money for his wife’s medical bills.)
But why should this be? We live in a glorious new age of bicycling! It sometimes seems like every fifth person in New York has gotten one and is annoyingly evangelical about it; in college towns, too, it’s back (or at least that’s what I learn every time I visit my hometown of Austin). There’s even a multi-city Bicycle Film Festival. As conservatives so often claim, Hollywood is indeed out of touch with ordinary Americans in ignoring our transportation revolution! Why doesn’t Roland Emmerich stop making disaster movies and make one about heroic bikers saving the world? However, I’m pleased to report that our long national drought of bicycle movies is coming to an end. Just today, we learned there will be a Schwinn double bill in our future with David Koepp’s “Premium Rush”, a thriller where a clean-cut bike messenger squares off against a dirty cop, which is being fast-tracked for shooting next spring, and Jason Priestley is developing “Free Rider”, a drama based on a recent Rolling Stone article about Sam Brown, a drug-smuggling mountain biker who ended up dead.
Americans! Rise up! It hasn’t been since the mid-’80s when the trifecta of “Breaking Away,” “American Flyers” and “Quicksilver” graced our screens that we’ve seen movies about heroic bicyclists. These days, the bicycle is an automatic punchline. To see how far we’ve fallen, compare the trailer for Kevin Bacon’s 1986 personal-rehabilitation-via-bicycling movie to 2009’s obscure “Bicycle Lane,” in which biking is the worst possible thing that could happen to an Angeleno. Which is kind of true. Note: The latter trailer contains NSFW language and is kind of horrifically unfunny, which is what makes it hypnotic. Yet it’s a standard example of the scorn poured upon bicycles every day. For shame.
[Photo: “I Heart Huckabees,” Fox Searchlight, 2004.]