This article begins with a disclaimer: I am not a cinema buff.
I treat film the same way I treat wine: I know what I like, and it’s often lowest-common-denominator detritus. (Thunderbird, evidently, does not enjoy an enviable reputation. And yes, we're still talking wine here, not motorcycles.)
Though I have seen precious few movies of all types, I have seen quite a few motorcycle flicks. Here are a few films I enjoy that I have found to be generally underappreciated, for various reasons, by my fellow motorcyclists.
From Dust To Glory
This motion picture is pretty phenomenal. It covers the grueling Baja 1000 race, which puts both machines and pilots through a physically punishing torture test. I say “machines” rather than "bikes" because you'll see non-moto contraptions like Trophy Trucks and Baja Bugs running the sand right alongside the bikes.
If you’re a gearhead or a speed junkie, "From Dust To Glory" will be grin-inducing. It’s hard to watch this and not root for Mouse McCoy, the protagonist. The documentary chronicles his solo attempt to complete the Baja 1000. If any of you comment that you watched this and did not half-assedly search Craigslist for used XRs the next day at work, I will be skeptical.
The movie is an excellent demonstration of how far our machines have advanced. In the early days of motorcycling, the conflict was frequently Man vs. Machine, but the solid reliability of modern bikes really does turn the plot into Man vs. Self. Just ask Mouse.
"6 Over" is a very low-key documentary about some dudes who build and ride choppers. It’s that simple and loose — a glimpse into the lives of some guys who love claptrap crap. The old-bike aficionado in me adores this movie, but I acknowledge that it stars a whole cast of Sean MacDonalds. (Kidding, buddy! Sort of.) The people you'll see on screen are pretentiously effete. Don’t say I didn't warn you about all the skateboarding references, beanie hats, and shitty beards.
Now that the mockery is out of the way: This movie is flat-out wonderful. Considering that it surely was shot on a shoestring budget, it’s really visually appealing, with great camera work. The honesty and enthusiasm of the guys in the movie are infectious, there’s loads of chopped-up bikes to look at, and some interesting characters, even if they are hipsters. Check out the trailer above.
"Wild Hogs" is movie about middle-aged guys riding Harleys. They’re all in the throes of some shallow, First World life problems that are put into perspective by the excursion these four pals take. The boring-ness of sad old men riding their bikes around is broken up with a nice showdown with some dudes called the Del Fuegos. This campy interpretation of motorcycling is so bad it’s good — assuming you are slightly chemically altered. Is it formulaic? You betcha! John Travolta in a do-rag? Check. Faux-scary Latin OMC? Got it. Zany crashes and worn-out slapstick humor? Present and accounted for. This is a movie you can tolerate and watch with your kids, if they’ve heard the odd swear word now and again. Just make sure your Redbox is near a liquor store.
On Any Sunday
I feel silly even suggesting people watch this movie because it’s the seminal motorcycle movie. But the number of people I know who have not partaken is ludicrous, hence its inclusion on this list.
"On Any Sunday" is a documentary about all sorts of motorcycle competition. It’s chock full of Seventies-era heroes like Mert Lawwill, and really captures the motorcycling craze that swept America around that time. Despite the fact that it’s antiquated and dated-looking, this film — even just a quick snippet of it — gets me juiced up to go riding. I think it’s just the raw enthusiasm of the people in the film. None of these guys got rich from motorcycling. They were in it for love of the game.
Humor me. If you respect your roots, you have to watch this movie at least once. And if it does feel antiquated to you, the good news is that the sequel is hitting theaters right about now.
Northville Cemetery Massacre
Here’s another “so bad it’s kinda good” movin’ pitcher. This video is the archetypal biker B-movie, replete with trippy synthetic sound effects when things get “heavy.” A cop commits rape and attempts to pin it on the motorcycle club that’s blowing through Smalltown, U.S.A. Terrible special effects, gratuitous nudity, and the devil’s lawn are in fair supply. The score was composed by a former Monkee. What’s not to love? If none of that convinces you, perhaps this will: This video has been available in its entirety on YouTube (free!) for as long as I can remember.
Obviously this list is not a compendium. These are just five movies I think are too unknown, too unwatched, or too underappreciated.
I urge you to sit down with a beer and popcorn and burn up a weekday evening or two watching motorcycle flicks. I also challenge you to clue in the rest of us about other unsung motorcycle motion pictures in the comments section below! Give me something to keep me busy this winter. Cabin fever strikes hard in these parts.