A bicycle is an odd-looking creature. Kind of like an antlered greyhound. Flimsy, too. Riding one, it’s like getting a piggyback ride from a ghost. Straddling one of these bipedal contraptions, you’re balanced on wind and prayer, naked to the elements, like a witch on her broomstick. I’m writing this from Minneapolis, famed for having some of the strangest bicycles around, low-riders, like engineless choppers; prim four-seaters, who, when I see their riders daintily stroking through traffic, remind me of the swan ballet in one of the old Loonie Toon shorts; two-story monstrosities, farthing farthings, whose wheels look like they revolve the very mind of God. There’s a bit of a secret society around these last ones, the darkest secret: How they mount the ungainly things in the first place! And I, too, am one of the pedal people. I prowl the night on my poky mount, spitting bugs and free as a southwester. And I ride hard. Every day of the year. I’ve worn two dozen bikes’ tires to pulp in a decade. So, yes, I know bikes. Deeply. Purely. And I was really primed to see "Still We Ride," eager for an homage and hosanna to two-wheeled trundlers everywhere.
Boy, did I get my hopes blown to smoking smithereens.
"Still We Ride" is about the Critical Mass bike-a-thons in New York City, Earth First nuts and neo-hippies congregating with their Power Ade holsters and scrawny steeds and smugly congratulating themselves on being morally and physically superior to the gluttonous car cult. Oh, and they like to piss off cops, too, leading to some of the biggest mass arrests since May Day. Or so the propaganda accompanying this righteous bludgeon of a doc would have you believe. Really, it was less than 1/40th of the 1971 protest. But that’s the way the doc makers want to paint it, with colors as primary as a toddler’s fumbling finger paints.
This movie wallops you over the head with its shrill point, the crunchy-granola goodies vs. the bureaucratic baddies, and doesn’t let up, like a moralizing Mike Tyson. A caveman and his club are more subtle. This isn’t even a moral movie; it’s pure propaganda. And it resorts to all of the chicanery of that tricksy trade. When you open a doc with a child stuttering out the mantra of the film, you know you’re in dangerous territory.
Poppets are not puppets. Shame.
It’s not that I don’t like movies with an agenda. I think, for the most part, a movie without a few angry burrs tangled in its celluloid, isn’t worth watching. Film is our most furious medium. It has a way of reordering our biology, so our eyes route information to our heart before our head. The way we take in a moving image is completely different than a static one. Film sings to our adrenal glands and deep pockets of melancholy first, brains second. What I don’t like is a movie that spends its length thumping Bibles and force feeding us rhetoric, neverminding such petty things as entertainment and escapism, which are cinema’s chief guilty joys.
Church is for sermons; the picture house is for pleasure.
I’d rather go to the picture house.
This is how this doc should have rolled: Just filmed the bike run in all its eccentric, clean-fumes glory, then silently filmed the arrests. No music, no manipulation, just the Rorschach of image and trust the audience to make up their own minds. This thesis-chanting, more than anything else, shows the filmmakers don’t trust their audience. It’s a bitter, prickly piece.
If the Critical Mass folk want to strap a penny-farthing with C-4 and run it into the White House, so be it. But I won’t be the one doing the pedaling.