Hidden among the summer blockbusters dominating theaters this time of year is a single showing this Sunday afternoon of a 2011 documentary called Charge. Narrated by Ewan McGregor, the film looks at the first-ever zero emissions motorcycle race (the TTZero) held in 2009 on the Isle of Man. The film is showing in select US cities this week, including C-bus.
The Isle of Man is an island located in the Irish Sea, about halfway between the UK and Ireland, and every year since 1905 it has hosted a motorcycle race now called the Isle of Man TT (for Tourist Trophy). The race runs along a 37 3/4 mile course on the islands roads – through fields and villages, up the Island’s mountain and in and out of its towns. It’s the oldest motorcycle racecourse running today.
The TT is a prestigious but notoriously deadly event, and hundreds of racers have died over the years, as I learned watching the short documentary about the race called A Dangerous Addiction, which you can watch online here. It’s about 45 minutes, all of them engaging, and provides a great overview of the event.
Beyond the TT motorcycle race, the 2013 version of which begins tomorrow, what I want to tell you about this place is that the natives of the Isle of Man refer to themselves as Manx, which is awesome, and count among their numbers Maurice, Barry and Robin Gibb, a fact I include here because Chip tells me his readership is more inclined to music than motorcycles. It is perhaps worth noting that Robin Gibb passed away a year ago this week, you might remember.
While I can’t count myself among hard-core motorcycle aficionados, I’m always struck by the amazing visuals motorcycles provide – whether racing in a slick Gran Prix, jumping from dirt mound to dirt mound, transporting bad guys or good guys in hundreds of functional films, or slowly parachuting Evel Knievel down into the Snake River Canyon. They are vehicles of aspiration, throbbing symbols of auspicious intention or painfully dashed dreams. Mark Neale, who directed Charge, has also directed the motorcycle racing documentaries Faster and Fastest (the latter of which was also voiced by Ewan McGregor). I’ve seen Fastest, but not Faster (which suddenly strikes me as odd), and can at least attest that Neale knows how to make the most of his very visual subject. For the record, I’ve not seen any of the Fast and Furious films, the sixth of which also opens this weekend.
Stunning visuals aside, what attracts me to Charge is the inevitable clash of cultures as new technology and upstart bragaddocio brush up against internally combusted traditionalists. I love the guy in the trailer who intones incredulously “I mean, this is the Tea Tea!” in part, because I can imagine what the ‘Merican counterpart might sound like if we started reading electric stock cars at Daytona, and in part because when I lived in Texas, I knew folks who used the phrase “tea-tea” to mean what we yanks call “pee-pee,” particularly when encouraging a puppy to make some outside.
I’m hoping the film, which I haven’t seen, is one part “Who Killed the Electric Car?” (a 2006 documentary about GM’s decision to kill off the EV-1 in the late 90s) and one part Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, which I picked because it is the one that has Tina Turner in it, and she is a musician, too.
Although Tina Turner was not born on the Isle of Man like the BeeGees were, she was apparently born in a town called Nutbush, Tennessee, which I suppose, if it were an island, would be called the Isle of Man and Woman.
The trailer for Charge also seems to suggest that the film will explore the idea of whether or not electric vehicles can be badass. Can they take our breath away as they fly past in blurs of color, a little slower and a lot more quiet than their gas-powered relatives? This is a question that seems to get lost as we talk about electric vehicles (which I’m all for, by the way). Instead we hone in on their range, the availability of charging stations and subsidies and whatnot. What I want to know is if the electric bikes can achieve what the poet James Dickey suggests in “Cherrylog Road,” (go read it, philistines) as the narrator mounts his motorcycle and speeds away from a sweaty junkyard tryst.
Drunk on the wind in my mouth,
Wringing the handlebar for speed,
Wild to be wreckage forever.
Charge plays Sunday at 4:50 p.m. at The Gateway Film Center. It is part of the Docurama film series. I realize this a preview of a film I haven’t seen, and not a review of one I have, but if the stars align and I make it down on Sunday afternoon, I’ll update this post with my take.
PS: Rider Mark Miller, who holds the record for the fastest lap by an American in the Isle of Man TT, took on all questions during a Reddit AMA earlier this week. Check out the transcript, here.