As winter sets into Northern Michigan, one of the great things we can all do is watch bike-centric movies. Now I know there are probably other things that you could be doing, but there aren’t many of them we can really talk about on this blog. I mean if the joke about NASCAR is “look, they’re taking another left!,” writing about riding a trainer or exercise bike would be “wow, their sweating in place!” So we will go with the movies! (Maybe you can park your trainer or exercise bike in front of the tv and be really cool)
The first movie is Jacques Tati’s 1948 Jour de Fete (or The Festival Day/The Big Day). It is a wonderful French comedy about a less than efficient French mailman, who during a Bastille Day celebration figures out that he and his bicycle peddling French counterparts are light years behind the US Postal Service. Now this film is both black and white (mostly), and subtitled, but if you give this movie a chance you should realize it’s an absolute gem. First, writer, director and star Jacques Tati is really a silent film master who just happens to be in a film with sound. With physicality, poise and a sense of wonder reminiscent of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, Tati’s bicycle is more of a costar than a prop. Tati, as Francois the postman, delivers a performance that mocks the importance of modernity in much the same way as Charlie Chaplin, the other silent film master did in such films as Modern Times.
Though there are many artistic things in this film such as camera work, use of limited color, sound, and narration that could be discussed, we will just dwell on the aspects that deal with the bicycle. There are the classic shticks of mechanical problems such as handle bar and tire twist, the perennial flat tire and trials and tribulations of its repairs. You have the armature out riding the racers in a similar fashion to the iconic scene my generations Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. A runaway bicycle, the humor of trying to learn how to improve bicycle handling skills, to the point that those around just laugh. All things you may see in part in other movies, but seldom as fresh or as funny as in this film.
Tati seems to love the bike in this movie. Though like many of us his character does go through a phase where efficiency and modernity do seem attractive, he still seems to care greatly for his old friend (and who wouldn’t care for a 1938 Peugeot). In the end its tradition and community (two things we like at Alpena Tweed and Bike Club) that are important. Though I am glad Francois does not deliver my mail, I think he would deliver laughs to anyone who watches this movie.