Friday, January 17, 2014

On Any Sunday (1971)

          After making his name with a series of surfing documentaries, notably The Endless Summer (1966), filmmaker Bruce Brown turned his lens to other sports. On Any Sunday depicts the world of competitive motorcycle riding, so the film includes races on multiple continents, in environments ranging from deserts to ice fields. The idea is to immerse the viewer in the breadth and fun of two-wheeled sportsmanship, so the vibe of On Any Sunday is almost perpetually upbeat; in fact, the movie often feels like a PSA for a motorcycle advocacy group, even though Brown includes facts about the dodgy economics of competitive riders and the grueling nature of long-distance races. Nonetheless, the sheer volume of footage and information Brown collected is deeply impressive. (On Any Sunday earned an Oscar nomination for Best Feature Documentary, but lost to The Hellstrom Chronicle.) And if this movie doesn’t have quite the same kick as Brown’s surfing docs, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable travelogue filled with amusing episodes, exciting moments of athletic accomplishment, and spectacular scenes of mega-races that attract more than 1,000 competitors. On Any Sunday even includes periodic appearances by a genuine movie star, because Steve McQueen was an avid motorcyclist who participated in several scenes alongside his freewheelin’ pals.
          Nonetheless, the ambition of the project outdistances the artistry. Brown’s shooting style is conventional, since he uses long lenses and slow motion to capture details that might escape the naked eye. Alas, riders are often obscured behind helmets and uniforms, so many of the racing shots lack a human element. Furthermore, Brown employs cornball music and sound effects to juice comedic moments, and his wall-to-wall narration gets a bit monotonous after a while. A final criticism is that Brown gained access only to the private lives of select documentary participants, so while the film offers a holistic view of unlucky competitor Mert Lawill, for instance, the presentation of star athlete Malcolm Smith is strictly hands-off. Smith is portrayed as a superior competitor who wins nearly every race he enters, no matter the type of race or whether he’s attempted that type beforehand, but Brown never reveals anything about what makes Smith tick.
          Ultimately, these shortcomings are inconsequential, because Brown never promises viewers an exposé or even a human drama. Right from the start, On Any Sunday is a feel-good celebration of riders doing what they love. Plus, Brown’s surfer-dude delivery on the soundtrack keeps everything cheerful and mellow. Brown adores the word “classic,” frequently drawling that such-and-such move is “the classic example” of a particular rider’s style, and he occasionally slips into outright beach-bum patois. (Describing a desert race, he says, “If you hit a bush, it’s an instant end-o.”) In short, On Any Sunday provides interesting information shared by way of a stoked super-fan, so what’s not to like? Proving the durability of the film’s easygoing aesthetic, Brown has produced three sequels, beginning with On Any Sunday II (1981) and continuing into the 2000s.

On Any Sunday: GROOVY

1 comment:

Bonnach said...

I loved this movie as a kid. Great review, I love this blog and read it daily. Thanks!

Just an FYI - Endo is a biking term, short for end over end. As in, he hit the bush and went endo. It can also refer to almost having this happen when landing heavily on the front wheel when landing a jump, since you could easily go end over end doing that.