If 22 days and 3600 kilometres of gruelling, dramatic, real-life bicycle action just isn’t enough for the endurance racer within you, you can always turn to international cinema for a fix between stages.
The rhythmic, forward momentum and driving physicality of pushbike riding has proved inherently cinematic for over 100 years. In 1909, French director Segundo de Chomon made the stunt-filled comedy Pickpock ne craint pas les entraves (Slippery Jim) – an 8 ½-minute silent short which features some sublime two-wheel dexterity, as escapologist ‘Pickpock’ eludes two bumbling gendarmes around turn-of-the-century Paris.
Across the Atlantic, American filmmakers were discovering the joys of cycle-cinema. Comedian Joe E. Brown (who would achieve cinematic immortality as Osgood Fielding III in Some Like It Hot, when he deadpans the line “Well, nobody’s perfect.”) starred opposite Maxine Doyle in Lloyd Bacon’s 6 Day Bike Rider (1934), a romantic comedy in which a factory schlub must enter the titlular tournament to win his sweetheart’s affection.
But it was during the Golden Era of 1940s cinema that bicycle films flourished amongst the finest of Europe’s filmmakers. Vittorio De Sica created the cinematic masterpiece Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thief) in 1948, a landmark film in the history of cinema that would go on to win the Best Foreign Film Oscar and be studied by students and scholars to this day.
In 1949, French cinema’s most beloved comedian, Jacques Tati, would remake an 18-minute short of his from 1947, Encole des Facteurs, and create his masterwork Jour de fete, the hilarious and heartwarming tale of an ambitious policeman determined to modernise his mode of delivery for the benefit of local villagers.
German cinema embraced the bike in 1949 with E.W. Emo’s feel-good comedy Um eine Nasenlïnge (By A Nose Length), a love story about two cyclists pining for the same girl and starring the nasally-magnificent Theo Lingen, who carries the film’s title on his shoulders. Deutsche kino would have a love affair with the two-wheeler in the decades ahead – Hans Deppe’s Immer die Radfahrer (Always These Cyclists, 1958) followed three friends as they peddled through the Black Forest, and Janek Rieke’s dark rom-com Hartetest (Test Of The Heart, 1998) features a big-city bike-courier (Lisa Martinek) who demands her new, wimpy boyfriend (played by the director) show his masculinity or lose her.
The allure of the self-propelled open road has not been lost on British auteurs – buxom bombshell Diana Dors starred opposite Anthony Newley and John McCallum in Ralph Smart’s A Boy, A Girl And A Bicycle (1949). Zulu Dawn director Douglas Hickox helmed the short film love story Les Bicyclettes De Belsize in 1969 that plays like a two-wheeled tour through the swinging London of the mid-60’s, including a smashing Engelbert Humpedinck track. And the Scott brothers teamed up for the 1965 short film Boy On A Bicycle, in which older brother Ridley made his directing debut with Tony in the lead role of a truant exploring his township on bikeback.
More recently, Johnny Lee Miller starred in Douglas Mackinnon’s The Flying Scotsman, the rousing tale of Graeme Obree and his homemade, record-breaking racing bike.
The love of the bicycle and its place in cinema is not wholly the domain of western cinema. Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s beautiful allegorical love story Bicycleran (1987) features a man who rides non-stop for a week to save his sick wife while the promoter exploits the depressed townsfolk for support money; also from Iran, Marziyeh Meshkini’s Roozi Khe Zan Shodam (The Day I Became A Woman, 2000) is a portmanteau film relating several tales of strong defiant women, one of who enters a bike race despite her husband’s wishes.
Tran Anh Hung’s Vietnamese drama Cyclo (1995) and Wang Xiaoshuai’s Shiqi Sui De Dan Che (Beijing Bicycle, 2002) represent two of Asian cinema’s finest pedal-centric exports. And from Brazil comes the extraordinary film O Caminho das Nuvens (The Way of the Clouds, 2003), Vincente Amorim’s cross-country odyssey that follows a young family as they cycle 3200 kilometres in search of work.
The global animation industry has also recognised the joy and exhilaration of a good bike ride and has provided some of the most unique perspectives on cycling ever filmed. The French production Belleville Rendezvous (The Triplets Of Belleville, 2003) received international acclaim and scored its director Sylvain Chomet a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination
Though now better known for Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Wall-E, Pixar animation created Red’s Dream in 1987, the story of a lonely uni-cycle that dreams of a peddling away to the circus; and Japanese animator Kitaro Kosaka director the local hit Nasu: Summer In Andalusia (and its sequel, Nasu 2), in which a small town cyclist chases his biggest dream.
And of course, Hollywood, to its credit, has given us some of the most enduring and unforgettable bicycle films ever made. From Peter Yates’ Oscar-nominated coming-of-age charmer Breaking Away (1979)...
... to Tim Burton’s off-the-wall cult favourite, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)...
...to John Badham’s Rocky Mountain road race crowd-pleaser American Flyers (1985) starring a soon-to-be-star Kevin Costner.
From Paul Newman’s showboating atop a very basic model in George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1967) to Kevin Bacon zipping through the streets of the Big Apple on a courier custom-job in Thomas Michael Donnelly’s Quicksilver (1986); from Henry Thomas’ leap-of-faith in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) to Jake Gyllenhaal’s tranquil glide down a wooded highway at dusk in Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (2001). The pushbike in all its forms has been as integral to many of the movies classic moments as the stars themselves. The Tour de France has created its own mystique and legends of the sport, just as the movies have recognised the iconic role the bike has played in all our lives.
No one life more so than Nicole Kidman’s. I give you, BMX Bandits....