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Book Review: Cycling and Cinema

It is slightly ironic that it takes a book to document the connection between cycling and cinema. Of course the cost of usage rights for film snippets would make a tv or film documentary prohibitive. And the cost of usage rights explains why there are very few movies posters or screen-grabs shown in the book. The result; Cycling and Cinema by Bruce Bennett is an academic reference where readers have to seek out the original films if the detailed text descriptions don’t suffice.

Bennett introduces this chronological journey with a history of the bicycle, the cogs and moving elements of the original film camera’s is likened to a bicycle. In films throughout history, the author provides context and explores the socioeconomic significance of the bike. It is fitting that the first ever (short) films created for public viewing were released by Kodak and showed workers leave the factory by foot and by bike… but the author elaborates as it doesn’t just show workers leaving the factory, it is a snapshot of a historical era of society in change and the bike is deeply seeded within. As the reader we are reminded that that before the private car took over the world, bikes were once far more important for mobility.

The over-analytical style is a consistent theme throughout so this publication shouldn’t be mistaken by keen cyclists as a frivolous game of “spot the bike’ or coffee table book. Cycling and Cinema is an academic analysis of film through the ages that feature an important bicycle connection. For each movie, the plot is described in detail along with the role of the bicycle and cycling.

I will admit that I was hoping to relive cycling movie magic such as the 1986 film Quicksilver with Kevin Bacon (youtube excerpt), the iconic ET and even Australia’s favourite BMX Bandits (which was one of Nicole Kidmans first full-length films). Of course these are all covered, but instead of transporting the magic of cinema, it is a documentation which explores the plot and significance. In other words, it is fairly dry and Netflix (or some other online streaming service) is will be a better outlet for movie magic. A word of warning about cycling films, you need to be aware that great acting and great plots are not necessarily prerequisites in a lot of bike films.

None the less, I found that this book can complement my film experience, for example the 1976 film A Sunday in Hell is fantastic insight into an era of cycling. Cycling and Cinema describes that numerous film cameras provided exceptional race coverage and in contrast with today, this type of coverage would be considered standard when watching live racing on TV. It is easy to forget how media consumption has changed significantly. Although one thing we still don’t get to experience in live TV coverage is a men’s choir chanting “Paris Roubaix”… a truely special moment in cycling.

A Sunday in Hell (1976) Paris Roubaix

Researchers and historians will be well served by Cycling and Cinema which delivers context, details and analysis of bike related films in history through to the present day. And importantly, it isn’t just limited to American and European films, rather it also includes important Asian and middle-eastern films – often exploring the inter-connections between them. For example, the 1948 Italian film Bicycle Thieves (youtube trailer) has been quite influential for many other filmmakers.

The Bicycle Thief 1948

Cycling and Cinema by Bruce Bennett is published Goldsmiths Press (distributed by MIT Press) and is available from most book stores with an Australian Recommended Retail Pricing of $57.99

Christopher Jones
Christopher Joneshttps://www.bicycles.net.au
Christopher Jones is a recreational cyclist and runs a design agency, Signale. As the driving force behind Bicycles.net.au he has one of each 'types' of bicycles.
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