Monday, December 16, 2013

DVD Review: BMX Bandits

BMX Bandits seems to get mentioned every now and then in Australian cycling circles as it was not only Nicole Kidman’s first ever movie role, but also the first BMX-themed feature film ever released according to the IMDb website (and also to the cleverly titled BMXDb website). Shot on location around Manly on Sydney’s northern beaches this 1983 sports action drama serves as a bit of a time capsule for Australian cycling history.

It’s fairly easy to be critical of a film like this for its weak storyline, bad acting, clichéd characters and banal one-liners that make most of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s speaking parts sound like Shakespearean prose. But it’s important to remember that it was 1983 and the Australian film industry was still recovering from the effects of the Ginger Meggs movie in 1982 and understandably still cautious about another film with a red-head cast in a leading role.
It would have at least provided some positive mainstream exposure for cycling at a time when the sport was still in a rebuilding phase after the disappointment of the 1980 Moscow Olympics where Australia failed to land a single cycling medal. Our best result that year was a 6th place in the Mens Team Pursuit. And prior to that we hadn’t won an Olympic cycling medal since the Munich games in 1972.

It is difficult to quantify how much credit BMX Bandits deserves for the rapid improvement in Australian cycling that followed this film's release, but history does not lie – despite not having won an Olympic medal in cycling for over eleven years, just seven months after this film’s release, the Australian Mens Team Pursuit won gold at the 1984 Los Angeles games. While it could be argued that BMX riding and Team Pursuit racing have little in common, the fact is that they both showcase single-speed bicycles, silly helmets, banked turns and the occasional crash.
So, in reality, the only major difference would appear to be the wheel size, which, it could be argued, is the single most interesting debate that has ever occurred in cycling. In the mountain bike world, there are 26” diehards, 29er aficionados, confused 69er advocates, 650B bandits and some who have the taken it to a whole new level with bikes like the “Buck-20”.
If you’re a bit confused about the whole wheel size debate but just feel like you want to be involved, then the Buck-20 (sporting a 36” & 20” wheel) might just be the bike for you. Seen here with Damo from Cog Bike Cafe.

On the road there are the classic 27 × 1¼” traditionalists, your standard white bread 700C roadies, the 650C crusaders and Pursuit Bike purists who favour a low and aero front end. But while this debate rages on, BMX has always acted like a steadying force. If there’s one thing that we can all agree on, it’s that BMX bikes have the smallest wheels and the first feature film to feature BMX bikes may (or may not) have been influential in Australia’s Olympic success on the track.
BMX Bandits also thrust cycling advocacy issues in to the public spotlight with it’s loosely woven plot that is triggered by a policeman informing the two young protagonists that it’s against the law to ride their pushbikes in the shopping plaza. In fact, it’s possible that some of the ideas presented in this film directly influenced cycling advocacy organisations such as the Bicycle Federation of Australia (now discontinued), Bicycle Network Victoria (formerly Bicycle Victoria) and the much-vaunted Wheels of Justice, although, I’ll admit that this might be a rather tenuous link.

There’s certainly nothing on any of their websites that recommends fundraising by selling stolen goods, infiltrating semi-organised (and mainly incompetent) crime rings and unwelcome vigilante action to apprehend armed bank robbers as a lobbying tool to generate funding for bicycle infrastructure and safety.
 The stunt riding for Nicole Kidman’s character, Judy, was famously performed by an 18 year old boy wearing a wig in this film. And while this goes off without a hitch most of the time, some of the other stunt riders, at times, look a little second rate:
Obviously the tight budget on this film didn’t allow time to re-shoot this botched landing.

There are a few hints of brilliance though, as well as a few ideas that have since been taken to impressive new heights. Firstly, the incredible water slide scene that was recently re-created in Martyn Ashton’s Road Bike Party 2 - a response video to The Private Cyclist’s own Time Trial Bike Soiree (which was itself, a response video to Martyn Ashton’s original Road Bike Party video). The second was the “backwards riding” scene that inspired some guy in Norway to ride his mountain bike in reverse down the Trollstigen.
But while this film may have been both influential and important in terms of the direction and growth of Australian cycling, when you boil it down, all that you end up with is a sticky mess of coloured plastic wheels (which are fetching some quite impressive prices on eBay).

The acting is noticeably bad, although 16 year old Nicole Kidman’s performance is the definite standout. The music and sound effects seem quite inappropriately futuristic, the characters are incredibly clichéd and the plot quite farcical. Despite what David and Margaret might have said about this film…
…don’t be fooled – there’s plenty of sodomy, including a rather distasteful scene where a priest ends up in a compromising position with a mannequin.
But sodomy, Olympic gold and cycling advocacy aside, it’s still a pretty bad film.

BMX Bandits – 2.5 plastic spokes (out of 5).

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