29 May 2010

Wow. Okay. Maybe.

Some of the best memories I have are of the movies my dad took me to see when I was a kid.

For everyone in my particular generation who grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, watching movies in air-conditioned theaters was a regular part of summer vacation.  Summer movies were great.  They were a reprieve, a respite... from the heat... and especially from my little brothers.  I loved going to summer movies at Harkins Los Arcos Mall Cinema and at the El Camino Theater Camelview north of Camelback Road.  But I was never actually too stoked with most of the summer movie fare: The Fox And The Hound... The Devil And Max Devlin... Benji.  I sat through these films not because I liked them but because I got to see them with my friends... and because we got soda and popcorn... and because it was someplace to be out of the sun and the heat, if only for a few hours.

But every once in a while, usually on a Saturday morning, my dad would open the paper and turn to the movie pages and start scanning show times.  Excited, my brothers and I would begin the process of scrounging up our quarters and dimes for the snack bar. But we never really knew what we were in for whenever my dad determined to take us to the movies. Nevertheless, sitting next to my dad, not knowing what to expect, I can remember watching some very formative films:  the re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey... Star Wars... the Ralph Bakshi animated oddity Wizards... Star Trek: The Motion Picture... Clint Eastwood in Any Which Way But Loose and Outlaw Josey Wales... Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther Strikes Again... Abrahams, Zucker & Zucker's comedic masterpiece Airplane! (for a long time my touchstone for funniest movie ever) and many, many more great movies.

However, none of the films I ever saw with my dad stands out for me as memorably as does Bruce Brown's On Any Sunday... which I scored today for, like, six bucks in near-mint condition on DVD at Hollywood Video's going-out-of-business blow out sale!  The clerk who rang me out, who happened to be a former student of mine, noted my excitement at finding this film still on the rack today... shelved under Special Interest, for whatever that's worth.

"What's this movie about, Mr. Coe?" he asked.

"You've never seen it?" I replied.  "Oh, man, you should watch it.  It's a great film...Bruce Brown directed it... You know, the guy who made The Endless Summer?  Anyway, it's about motorcycles, and Steve McQueen, and riding dirt bikes in the 1970s, back in the day.  It's just an incredible film!  Really beautiful.  I used to own it on VHS.  I've watched it a dozen times and I could easily watch it a dozen more.  You should totally watch it!"

"Wow.  Okay.  Maybe." was about all he said.

On Any Sunday isn't a movie you can really explain well with words.  It's a movie you need to watch.  And not just if you like motorcycles.  It's a movie you should watch if you're passionate about anything.  Because it is essentially a movie about passion, about being so sold-out on something, anything, be it skiing, or tree climbing, or stamp collecting, that you've got it flowing through your veins.  I don't think anyone (and I include Warren Miller in this statement) to-date has ever made a really good movie that truly expresses the passion found in any of those things.  Plenty of films have touted the cool-factor of a given pursuit... the speed, the thrill, the danger... but I'm hard pressed to recall films in this genre that also succeed in conveying the abiding compulsion, the sense of pure passion, the joy that we experience when we're out doing whatever-it-is that we love.

In my opinion, Bruce Brown has succeeded at this like no one else.  Twice.  In 1966 he made the incredible The Endless Summer about the passion of surfing... and in 1971 he made On Any Sunday about the same thing, only about motorcycles.

Given three wishes, one of mine would be that I could make a film like this about riding bikes in the woods... or maybe skiing.

What am I talking about?   See for yourself: