I guess I should say this right off the bat: Any documentary that attempts to glamorize the often-ridiculous Portland bike scene is not a movie for me. So with that in mind I watched the new documentary Veer, created by Greg Fredette.
I guess I should say this right off the bat: Any documentary that attempts to glamorize the often-ridiculous Portland bike scene is not a movie for me. Yet, anytime a local filmmaker manages to not only make but actually get their indie film seen around the country, it deserves a look.
So with that in mind I watched the new documentary Veer, created by Greg Fredette. It follows a few different groups of bike enthusiasts—both normal and freakish in variety—as they drink beer, ride their bikes, drink beer while riding their bikes, ride their bikes while drinking beer … you get the idea.
After the movie was over, I realized I was right, the movie was not for me. In fact, it isn’t for anyone. It’s really awful.
I say that with a heavy heart. There needs to be more people who take a risk and decide to invest so much of their time, and dollars, into making a film. But if they do that, they should make sure that they are putting that time and money into something worthwhile, not a self-indulgent piece of fluff that plants its feet way too close to its subjects to be anything but clichéd and boring.
Veer, which is currently making the rounds at film festivals and special screenings as far out as New York, attempts to follow the adventures of those quirky, oft-mustached, bespectacled, weirdly-skinny bikers that populate Portland with the ubiquity of rats in a subway tunnel.
Contempt you say? Yes.
I didn’t realize I had such hatred for these people until I watched the movie, and I can’t pinpoint exactly why. All I know is I have a weird desire to make quick right hand turns in my Honda without checking the side-view mirror. Just kidding.
But in trying to portray these bikers as wacky, fun-loving outcasts with nothing better to do than ride around and act like children, Fredette gives us a movie with no purpose.
If you’ve read any local newspaper or blog you know the groups that this film covers inside and out: the Zoobombers, The Sprockettes, the numerous bike co-ops around town.
The idea of a bicycle-themed dance troupe, like the Sprockettes, or a bunch of daredevils flying at dangerous speeds down a highway, like the Zoobombers, could be of interest to someone with no previous knowledge of the subjects, but only if they really got into what makes these people tick. Instead we are treated to drawn-out, slow-motion scenes of them riding around town, or doing their clunky dances, while we watch and wonder what these people are all about.
Veer does manage to portray a few, slightly engrossing topics—the struggles to make bike riding safe in the wake of much-reported car vs. bike deaths and the less vital, but still interesting, struggles of a bike repair shop owner trying to balance his love with the harsh realities of finance.
Still, like much else in the movie, these stories are surface only. We only get enough to tease us with the possibilities of what could come from a deeper look at Portland’s bike scene.
What’s with all the beer drinking? The obsession with irony? The rebellion? The kids’ bikes?
Sadly we may just have to wait for answers to these and many other questions when a real film is made about the culture. Until then, I’ll see you at the gas tank.
More commentary on this article can be found @ BikePortland.org.