Right on, ride on

Ceci n'est pas une vélo


Posted by @teeheehee on March 1st, 2008

I’m continuing the bike-centric movie kick I’m on with another documentary called B.I.K.E. (Be Inclusive, Kill Exclusivity.)


The documentary frames itself as being the personal journey of the filmmaker, Anthony Howard, as he attempts to join a radical bike club in 2004 called Black Label (New York City chapter.)

Time for a little bit of background: Black Label features tall-bike riding, tall-bike jousting, and a lot of partying as somewhat unifying tenets to the organization. They have an image of being anti-corporate, anti-consumerism, and filled with members who often see the current stage of decline leading to an apocalyptic future where bikes will rule after the downfall of cars.

I’ve seen some of the creative spirit that can embody a bike culture and I had hoped this to be an exclusive peek into an example of that community and the human condition, despite the Mad Max sound of things from the bike club’s description. While it was about the human condition it was mostly about the condition of tragedy. It was only vaguely about bikes or bike culture.

My first thought after watching B.I.K.E. was that the description on Netflix is incomplete. The comments there pick up the slack, quite a bit. This is not much of a film about the Black Label the organization, or tall-bike riders, but is really just about Tony (Anthony Howard, the filmmaker.)

Tony is a starving artist. At the end of the film I was still questioning his initial motives in trying to join Black Label. There was little enough passion shown by him about biking at all, the film just started out with him trying to become a member and explaining to his friends his desire to basically infiltrate the group. It was more a flair of bravado or daring to join a rebellious group and document the journey of accomplishment. The Cool Thing To Do. Only he didn’t accomplish it, and in fact many bad things happened to him over the course of the year.

The film changes focus at about the time that Tony goes through a bad breakup, falls deep into a hard drug addiction, and he becomes painfully away of his own loss of self-identity. His attempt to join the Black Labels then becomes a mission to find inclusion, community, and identity. He fails to gain consensus among the club members when votes come up to decide whether or not to include him in their ranks. He sinks deeper into depression. In the end he starts his own club with a basic intent on humiliating Black Label at their own major party (Bike Kill,) and somehow tries to tie in philosophy and politics.

It is in a sense the age-old story of a person trying to find their concept of self, spun slightly differently to include a bicycle counter-culture group.

This is a human documentary, and it is quite dark at many points. It is raw: it has nudity and scenes of hard drug preparation and use. It is sad: you feel the need to intervene in this person’s life because it hurts to watch someone spiral down as Tony did. There was snippets of humor and community that were positive and brought some balance to the film. And loads of drama, as only an artist can bring.

I think the part I took most to was the deleted scene of Johnny Payphone, a member of Rat Patrol. Part of the interview made the trailer for the film and was included on the DVD as an extra. The film would have been even slightly more about the bike clubs if it were included, but that was not the film’s focus. I wish it could have been, as that would have been more interesting to me.

I hope Tony is doing better and is in a better position now in life. I feel like Black Label were cheated of a possibly interesting peek into their lives, and instead only an aspect of them was represented in this film. I would not recommend this film to followers of bicycle-related issues. I find myself struggling to come up with any group of people I would recommend it to. It’s not a pleasant story, and except for one or two deleted scenes filled with philosophical message I found myself wanting the one-and-a-half hours of my life better spent.

I would also wish to bring the message of A Perfect Circle’s “The Hollow” [YouTube] to Tony, which is to break from the downward spiral of addiction as it does not fill the emptiness within. (Not that I can say that as an expert, just as a concerned person who actually watched his film.)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.