On Yer Bike – A History Of Cycling On Film
2 x DVD Discs in case with booklet
29 Films. 248 Mins. Out now
Review by Cally Callomon
Fear ye not oh champions of the road, fellow pedaloes, the much over-used corny cliché in the title of this set is not reflected by the contents. Nor is the subtitle particularly accurate. No, this is not, as is implied, yet another History of Cycling On Film, it is, indeed, a selection of Historic Films About Cycling, no less, and a far more interesting prospect at that.
The progress of film development was a good few years behind that of the bicycle so the first film here is from 1899 whereat the bicycle of today was already recognizable, so we are spared the usual history lesson with all the usual oft-repeated mistakes such films contain.
The rather flimsy introduction notes suggest that this DVD release came about due to the current growing interest in cycling today, quite how this reflects back on the reasons behind the excellent earlier BFI release: a selection of sex education films, I dread to guess. The notes are for the layman whereas I’m sure many a cycling and film-buff will want to own this package and greater technical detail as to the film processes and the bicycle machines and cultures would have been warmly received.
As suggested by their introduction; we are entertaining a new Golden Era of cycling (the last one being in the astringent 1930s) there is plenty of evidence in this selection of the long dark ages of British Cycling where incredibly short sighted diktats by Cycling Governing Bodies made FIFA and the F.A. look like shining beacons of high principle. Come the 1960s so much went down the pan as the industry pandered to the whims of large-scale bicycle wholesalers who knew as little about buying a bicycle (as opposed to merely selling one) as did the clot-headed bird brains at HMV when it came to selling music.
There will come a time (there will, there will) when some DVDs are seen as rare beautiful things to collect (and my, how we all miss Notting Hill’s prematurely closed blue Video Exchange shop) and most of these beautifully packaged BFI titles will fetch high prices.
The BFI are one of the few companies that saw the looming redundancy inherent in a plastic box with paper insert and little else (that’ll be £15 please sir) and so dress their titles in stout card slip cases with 26 paged informative booklets and all manner of trainspotterly commentaries and this title is no exception, so buy two and put one down for future inheritance.
The brilliance of this set is in the lovingly restored films. The recent upsurge in cycling-cinemas proves just how many features there have been, but most of the contents of these two DVDs were new to me. Highlights are bound to be personal, reflected by tastes in the eras of cycling, but each film has been not over-restored and the sound is crisp and even. Most 20th Century eras are covered by short films here, a fantastic Children’s Film Foundation epic, advertising and documentaries, a great deal in black and white, and some in the fine faded tones as colour crept into our lives after war-torn Britain emerged blinking into the perpetual depression that became the 1970s.
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As with all films: viewing context is essential so here is my suggestion:
View the DVD on a Bush 937 or Redifusion TVMaster black and white set, any screen size will do (the later colour films will also benefit from this) and ensure no stereo or 5.1 speakers are connected, this is strictly a mono experience, preferable through speakers hampered by marmalade smears. (For greater authenticity: place sputnik aerial on set top).
Make large mug of strong Indian (or, at a push, Ceylonese) tea, putting milk in first.
Prepare an egg sandwich: Follow the recipe closely for that authentic cycling café experience.
1. Fry two eggs in bacon fat till the edges go crinkly brown, do not allow the yolk to solidify
2. Take two slices of thinly cut Wonderloaf white bread from their waxy paper wrapper and spread liberally with salted butter
3. Add eggs to one slice and put second slice on top after adding HP or Daddies sauce to taste (N.B. no foreign equivalent from Aldi is suitable, for these are not brown sauces) Sprinkle over a fine dusting of ground pepper
When eating, ensure yolk sprays out of bread edges and runs down fingers stained with used 3-in-1 oil. Hipsters with facial hair should allow yolk to coagulate in beards so that the yellow cake appears to go fashionably unnoticed. All the while, ensure the room is filled with the thick smoke of a smouldering Golden-Virginia ‘roley’ .
Sit on a hard wooden bench and enjoy the films forthwith.
N.B. mention should be made of the new sound-tracked music to be found over the older originally-silent films. To my ears this is of great interest and really stands up as pieces in their own right, however, if this is not enjoyed, I suggest that the big volume knob is turned down and the sound of frying eggs is allowed to fizz away in the background to add greater atmosphere, (as will the burning smell as poultry-produce is reduced to smouldering carbon).
The Veteran-Cycle Club
Cally will be joining us at Port Eliot and The Good Life festivals where, along with Gabrielle Drake, Daisy Vaughan and Nonny Denny he’ll be presenting Remembered For A While, a celebration of the life and music of Nick Drake.