Modernism II

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60 Cycles

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 8, 2015

I think this is a really great movie. The subject is a particular bicycle race, as well as bicycles, racers, and the sport entire. Equally, and just as successfully, the subject is film itself, as technique and form are repeatedly, compellingly pushed to the foreground. On the face of it 60 Cycles is a modest production, and perhaps it’s not much remembered. And yet, in addition to its considerable historical interest, it will have real appeal for a number of contemporary constituencies, for cycling neophytes and aficionados, as well as for film historians and plain movie lovers.

(I wonder. Was the title or graphic strategy of Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend, released some two years later, inspired by this picture? Striking similarities!)

A mapped introduction to the rigourous course is followed by a veritable anthology of photographic techniques. A two minute opening shot, taken with a long lens—the whole cohort approaches, arrives, passes—becomes a study in photographic compression, and of duration besides. A two minute lateral tracking shot is as equally concerned with visual planes as it is with the bikers’ constant ebb and flow. I notice for the first time how soccer-like this sport is. Victory is very much of interest, but with an undertaking this vast, it’s only and paradoxically through attending to the smallest shifts and struggles that you get the whole. Cycling is a matter of little surges and strategies, repeated infinitely.

In addition to sports insight, there’s lots here about technology and culture, and how they used to do things. No helmets! (No drugs?!) I don’t even know what I’m talking about, but could it be that everybody’s bike seats are too too low? 60 Cycles is a lot like 1966’s Helicopter Canada, except that it replaces the later film’s expansive breadth with a penetrating, localized view. It’s plenty picturesque, save that the portraits are too specific, too indelible to be merely that. The crash! That dear young man.

Hey, NFB: there’s that Green Onions music again.  It’s derivative—maybe even plagiaristic—but I like it. The subject and its rendering are for the ages. The score is quite groovily of its time.

What a superbly exciting conclusion! In an amazing series of shots, taken once again with a long lens, the bikers streak laterally through a number of static camera set-ups until they become (Norman McLaren-like) abstractions of velocity and striving, of grace and beauty.

I think this is a really great movie!