PREMIUM RUSH vs LINE OF SIGHT:
How does Hollywood’s high-tech version of a bike messenger culture compare to miles of footage from the helmet cameras of Lucas Brunelle?
By John Baker
Urban cyclist of ten years, bike messenger of five, and bicycle salesman for two; whether puttering around on his cruiser, holding track stands on his fixed gear or going the distance on his road bike, riding a bike is a huge part of the author’s life.
Premium Rush is a film about a New York City bike messenger played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt who, after picking up a high-priority call, is confronted by a corrupt cop who won’t stop until he gets his dirty hands on the prized envelope.
In one of the opening scenes of Premium Rush, a female courier rides intensely down a busy street and is abruptly cut off by an obnoxious cabbie. In response she says, “If you’re not going to use it, then I guess you don’t need it!” and smashes off the cabbie’s mirror with her chain lock.
Being an experienced urban cyclist, I have to say that the best way to break off a cab mirror would be use a U-lock route, as it weighs less than a chain lock and any messenger knows it doesn’t make sense to carry more weight than you have to. And you will probably end up making more money that way; carrying a heavy Bankers Box on your back will be much harder to ride with if there is some heavy-gauge, galvanized steel strangling your waist. (But the chain lock has been popular in NYC over the years due in part to it’s flexibility to be able to lock to anything.)
And therein lies the difference between the Hollywood version of a bike messenger in Premium Rush versus the documentary version shot by, and featuring, real-life bike messengers in Line Of Sight.
Line of Sight is a documentary about the fastest urban cyclists in the world, and about Lucas Brunelle who has spent ten years of his life following these speed demons in high-speed pursuit. Wearing a helmet equipped with two HD cameras pointing in opposite directions and with the help of director/cinematographer Benny Zenga, Brunelle gets closer than anyone with a camera to the fast-paced action of urban cycling and racing.
Not only does Line Of Sight feature the fastest bike messengers from around the world, it is also shot by the one and only Lucas Brunelle, a man on a mission. The documentary shows Lucas riding directly behind the best of the best on his Lamborghini bicycle, while keeping his helmet perfectly level with no side-to-side swivels, barrelling though intersections and swerving through traffic to keep up with the riders at the front of the pack. Strapped onto his helmet he carries two HD cameras: one pointing forward and one backward, and each weighing a few pounds (approximately 6 or 7 pounds together.) “It’s like having two pop bottles full of pennies on either side of your head,” says NYC messenger and four-time alleycat Monster Track winner Alfred Bobe Jr. in the film.
Additionally, director and cinematographer of the film, Benny Zenga, used traditional and extreme measures all to capture the high-adrenalin action. Be it riding one-handed while holding a camera mounted to a tripod, or holding a 16mm camera while in the front seat of a cargo bike swerving through busy NYC streets, or hanging off the back of a pickup truck in the mountains of Guatemala while someone (well… me! Refer to the end of the film when the credits are rolling) holds his belt so that he won’t bail face-first on the concrete quickly rushing by beneath. I’d say you cannot get any closer to the action than Brunelle and Zenga got in Line Of Sight.
How can I say that with such certainty? Well aside from being at the 18th annual Cycle Messenger World Championship in Guatemala (which was hit by Hurricane Agatha and ended up being a modified track) -- I am actually featured in the film’s “Chasing Demons” section with my good friend Serge Lekoutovich, (who now would be considered an “exenger” -- a bike messenger of a number of years who has since gotten off the road.) Though hours upon hours of film were edited down to make the documentary, it’s all real and straight from the source. (The Guatemalan portion of the film will be elaborated on in an upcoming Q&A with the author and Nadir Olivet, the organizer for CMWC 2010 in Panajachel, Guatemala.) Related on the dandyBLOG: The story of La Ocho.
Premium Rush was entertaining. Even from watching the trailer, one can easily envision the film being a standard Hollywood version of the bike messenger story; with cheesy lines and a love story running alongside the main cycling plot like some effete triathelete, and yet the film does possess some elements worthy of street cred. Austin Horse, a NYC bike messenger who is a sponsored rider, activist with Times Up! NYC and known within messenger circles worldwide (and we hope will be interviewed in dandyhorse’s upcoming safety issue!) stunt-doubles for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Wiley.
Of course there are big skids, and lots of “no-brakes on my fixie” banter with some quick shredding and a good portion of swerving through dense traffic, as well as some slightly maniacal laughter that follows almost getting a “door prize” as the messenger thinks about the many different ways that situation could have gone differently (the “what-if…” scenarios as I call them). And between Wiley mentioning that most couriers are working for about 80 bucks a day and depicting the risk calculation that occurs when a messenger approaches a busy intersection filled with cars, transit, pedestrians, other cyclists and most likely a red light, I’d say the Hollywood cheese didn’t smell so bad.
But at the end of the day, there really is no comparison. What’s more authentic: Hollywood or Brunelle and Zenga’s in-your-face film? And what would you rather watch: The blocked-off streets of a movie set or a wild Alley Cat in city streets around the world? Keep it rubber side down.
Related on the dandyBLOG:
More stories on the Bicycle Film Festival can be found on the dandyBlog here
BFF is in Hong Kong January 10 -13. For more information, go to bicyclefilmfestival.com/-hong-kong