By Christopher Cudworth
A few years back, I organized and hosted a giant Academy Awards party at the Arcada Theater in St. Charles, Illinois. More than 900 people attended. Catering was provided by Panera Bread. People were excited to be seeing the movie awards on the Big Screen.
One band of happily overdressed women showed up a bit over served. I found them seats but they did not stay there long. I didn’t mind them falling out of their dresses. I just didn’t want them to fall out of the balcony.
I think of those gals every year when the Academy Awards come around. They turned that night into their own brand of party, and that’s a good thing. It is therefore in their spirit that today’s blog post will feature the Best Pictures Never Made About Running and Riding. Life is all about alternate realities, which is what the Academy Awards are all about anyway.
You can use the Comments Section to vote for your choice of the Best Picture Pictures Never Made About Running and Riding.
This mind-bending thriller begins in a small town in northeast Iowa where a professor of history at tiny Luther College sets out on a trek among the area’s many hills. Not long into the journey his bike develops a strange set of harmonics and the ride becomes an allegory for getting through life’s difficulties. With every new shudder of the bike’s frame on a downhill section of road, we witness flashbacks to traumatic events in the professor’s life. The loss of his daughter to food poisoning. The ensuing fights and drama with his young wife. The divorce. His tragic followup relationships. All are recalled through intense flashbacks as the cyclist tries mightily to keep his actual bike on the road. The shuddering frame of his bicycle and the speed at which he’s moving downhill are all captured from incredibly technical camera angles. The movie ends with the professor pushing his bike up the steep incline of his driveway. He collapses in his garage and then a voice comes out of the kitchen. “How was your ride?”
Run Fast. Die Slowly.
Set in New York in 2001 during the 9/11 tragedy, this docudrama is based on true events. The life of a woman runner who carried victims of the 9/11 tragedy to safety after the twin towers fell is shown in almost silent gravity. Her curiosity at the crashing planes and burning towers pulled her from a run in southeast Manhattan all the way to the site where chaos, smoke and ultimate tragedy occurred. The contrast between the early phases of her focused run along the East River serve to demonstrate the gap between her desired solitude and the impact of the events unfolding in downtown Manhattan. We see her sprinting across the city through the streets of New York. She arrives seemingly exhausted, sweaty and a bit scared. Suddenly the first tower falls and she is enveloped in dust and nearly choking to death. Yet she finds strength to discover and carry people out of the swirling hell of 9/11. For hours she works, using her fitness to do everything she can to help. Yet finally, she is too exhausted and suddenly too sick to carry on. She leans against a wall of one of the city’s tightly compressed buildings and never awakes. The story then captures the testimonies of actual witnesses including the people she saved that day.
Set in the future, this movie hints at what cycling might become in the future. It also chronicles the looming acceptance of performance-enhancing drugs and what it means to the sports world in general. The story centers on one cyclist and his experimentation with PEDs, the mind-wrenching stress of performing beyond your perceived limits and the entire meaning of what it means to be a “domestique.” The training. The racing. All in preparation for a Tour de France that has been taken over by a secretive conglomerate that calls themselves TDF. The movie implies that the enterprise that ran cycling in the 1990s has set out to “get back” at the punishment doled out, and a barely disguised Lance Armstrong character with a gruff Batman voice is running it all. The organization raises the stakes and turns the Tour into a massive testament to excess and an almost cruel caricature of the limits of human endurance. Every rider now wears a helmet cam, and rewards are given out for the most spectacular crashes. A death can earn the rider’s team 1 million dollars, but only if it can be determined to be accidental. The viewers vote on that based on helmet-cam evidence. The now-4000 mile tour lasts 5 hellish weeks. Stages top 200 miles and riders spend entire years training for critical roles as scantily-clad domestiques, a process rather pruriently documented with gratuitous massage scenes and ritualistic shaving. The movie centers on the intense struggles faced by one of these domestiques, whose dedication to his teammates is all-consuming, right down to serving the sexual needs of his fellow riders and the lovers who slavishly follow them. Yet it is the relationships outside the race that hint at the potential for real love to save our souls from the role of domestique.
Gotta Love Your Mudder
This bittersweet, road-weary comedy travels to the backwoods of small-time extreme races across the country, where cyclocross races and “mudder” running events draw a continually changing and strange cast of characters. A brother and sister from a broken family hit the road together in search of fun and self-discovery. Their ventures take them to extreme locations where the rules are not always clear and even victories feel like losses. The two struggle to make ends meet with earnings from small-time prize money and working odd jobs across the country. The film shows them training in strange and wonderful environments, from trashy industrial towns to posh resorts where they labor cleaning hotel rooms and stealing food from the all-inclusive smorgasbords. One hilarious scene shows the two retreating to the back of the hotel while carrying mounds of still-fresh food in their arms. They eat until they are oblivious. And without knowing it, they are working back to a reunion with their long-lost mother, whose divorce from their father when they were children was the result of chronic abuse by him and her own resultant drug use. She is running and riding in a process of redemption and self-discovery. Her middle-aged talents for running and riding bring her an underdog’s fame. In truth she is driven by her deep sense of loss and range over losing custody of her children long ago. She speaks little of the past, yet we clips of her memories of her own children as she dreams while running and riding. Both of these life tales converge at a combination running and cyclocross event in the hills of western Pennsylvania where the “mudder” of the two younger champions finds a muck-covered reunion with her long-lost children when they win their respective age categories and meet up while washing the mud off their faces at the end of the day. She sees their faces emerge from the mud and match up with her dreamlike memories.
In a series of one-hour films within a three-hour movie, Tarsnakes uses uninterrupted footage to chronicle 60-minute runs and rides through sections of America that illustrate the challenges faced by the nation, and how to solve them. The first sequence opens with a rider crossing traveling through the rough streets on the South Side of Chicago all the way through the Loop to the parks and big homes of Evanston. Throughout the long scene we see the camera popping down to look at tarsnakes on the road. They seem to symbolize the jarring reality that our streets can take us anywhere, or take us down. The middle sequence features a runner on a highway in the heartland. We can hear her footsteps and breathing, for the camera follows close behind, almost voyeuristically. The vantage point highlights the dangers women face on their own as inevitably, cars honk and men wave out their windows. The “tarsnake” in this case is clearly the freedom the woman feels, yet the traps of harassment seem to wait around every turn. The final scene of the movies features children riding along with their parents as they run. The parents engage in conversation about their lives and their problems while the children mutter quiet observations to each other about the trees, bugs and flowers they see along the way. the contrasts illustrate the divisions between childhood and adulthood, the ultimate tarsnake in life.
So there you go. Five films that ought to be made about running and riding. Which would you most like to see?