Friday, October 23, 2009

Race Across The Sky

Yes, I went to see it last night.

Let's get one thing straight right away. I'm a lance fan. Not a lance fan-atic, just a fan. I truly appreciate what he's accomplished, how he's impacted cycling in the united states, how he's used his fame and fortune to advance the cause of cancer research, and the inspiration he's given people towards becoming cyclists and getting involved in the LAF. I'm also exceptionally dubious over the doper allegations, and fuck off if you're a lance hater (I have no patience for it).

Anyways, Race Across The Sky wasn't about lance. It was about the Leadville 100, a 100 mile MTB race centered in leadville colorado. Lance won this year, and they decided to use his fame as a vehicle to launch the film. Lance wasn't a minor character, but how could he be? He won the fucking thing, so of course he would be prominent. But shown just as prominently in the film is Dave Wiens, the founder of the event Kenneth Chlouber, as well as Travis Brown and Matt Shriver. Susan Demattei even had a good amount of face time. I make this point to make the distinction clear: Race Across The Sky was a movie about the Leadville 100 that had lance armstrong in it, much in the same way that Breaking Away wasn't really about cycling, it was a movie about a teenager coming of age with cycling in it.

Turn out was good, the theater was about half full. The manager was quite surprised, as he had to come out and help take/sell tickets. When he came out and saw the line at the ticket kiosk he actually said "wow!".

The movie was broken up into 3 parts - two panel discussions, before and after the actual movie, and then the movie about the race.

The panel discussions were poorly edited and hosted by a total putz (didn't even bother to look his name up). The low points of his performance were:

In the first segment - the 'panel' were all seated on wooden stools, the MC placed one foot on a stool rung and broke the rung. They didn't bother to cut away or get him another stool. As the discussion went on, the legs of the stool were noticeably widening as he shifted his position

Second segment - With a new stool, he asked Travis Brown if the fact that Travis was riding a 29er was beneficial. Travis replied "um, I wasn't riding a 29er, I had 26" wheels. My bike had drop bars".


The panel discussions were in fact interesting - if you're a cyclist and you knew the characters. I wasn't riveted, but light jokes were made (the theater audience laughed several times), and all the participants came off as friendly and relaxed in both segments. What made it difficult was the hacked editing I mentioned earlier. The flow of conversation was disrupted to the point that you felt like you had to mentally shift gears as the topic changed with the camera angle. Clearly, not much skill went into the transitions. The first segment went on too long, and if you aren't involved in sports as more than a fan, it will probably be the thing that turns off the majority of potential viewers. If this ever makes it to broadcast/cable/satellite network, the length of the first panel segment will have the cycling layperson switching over to survivor re-runs ten minutes in.

The movie - Pleasantly surprised to hear Bob Roll as the narrator. I don't know if this was shot in HD, but it wasn't shown in HD. It _should_ have been shot and shown in HD (a big fat fucking 'F' if it wasn't). The motorcycle camera shots and helicopter shots were spectacular. Shots showing the riders at the top of the course (Mount Columbine) rivaled any european racing footage I've ever seen. The footage of the actual race was excellent. Good camera shots, music not too overdone, the editing was done so that you actually felt a sense of the dramatic nature of the event. Little interviews with riders who had stopped for whatever reason, added a good feel to the difficulty, though a bit too much was spent on the people who didn't make the first time check. I suppose it was necessary to show the frustration and anguish of people who were actually turned back because they didn't make the first aid station in a reasonable time, but it was just a bit much for my taste.

Then there were the obligatory racer profiles. One woman racer had been hit by a car years earlier and suffered a broken back (five individual spinal fractures), two shattered legs, massive internal injuries, of course was shown in tears describing her comeback, (as was her husband). Curiously though, only about 30 seconds was spent on a woman racer who has MS (maybe she declined a more detailed interview?). I think that story would have been just as compelling, if not more. Alot of time was spent on Dave Wiens and his family, with his wife Susan Demattei given alot of camera time. If there was any question that this movie was a lance fest, these segments put it to rest. Time spent on lance's personal life or off the bike during the movie? Almost zero (exactly two mentions of his Gfriend and son in attendance with no interview, one short segment of him leaning on his bike and talking about the race). Third place rider Matt Shriver was actually interviewed off the bike as part of the movie, with significantly more time than armstrong.

As the race wore down and the movie came to a close, I would have liked a better choice of music. It was the same cheezy solo piano crap they have every year when they show the end of the ironman hawaii with the late finishers coming across the finish line. That said, I suppose it was a necessary addition to give the movie a slightly broader audience appeal. But you know us racers, we want to see racing. As empathetic as I am to the person just barely making the cutoff, it just isn't interesting to me, but that's just me.

I'm not going to go into the race details - all that information is on-line - except for one thing. Lance gets a flat about 7 miles from the finish. He has no clue how to change a tubeless tire (he admits this in the panel discussion after the movie). He spends his CO2 cartridges just pumping the tire back up then riding as far as he can until it was flat again, and rode the last three miles completely flat. One comment I've read today was "now we know lance is a litterbug". Well, we didn't see lance tossing his CO2 and not picking it up, and in fact the first time he stops to service the flat, he _does_ in fact pick the cartridge up, and Bob Roll even states, something to the effect of 'lance is clearly frustrated as he retrieves the spent CO2 cartridge'. I suppose the comment could have been about whatever happened to all the fuel packages he used - the same argument could be made for _all_ the elite racers. I'm pretty sure they had a crew go over the course the next day and pick up as much as they could. Does that excuse tossing wrappers off the bike? IMO no, but I don't know what they had said about such things, maybe they said "we'll have clean up crews".

Movies like this are necessary. Sure, the editing and directing left a little to be desired, but anything to raise awareness and un-marginalize our sport is good effort. It wasn't a lance propaganda piece, and it wasn't a smaltzy effort by a studio noob with delusions of coppola. It was done by a group of people who feel emotion for the sport and are obviously working towards greater acceptance. I'm sure there are other people out there that feel the movie was expertly edited and directed. I _know_ there are people out there that will lambaste the entire effort.

I'll probably buy the DVD. Hopefully it will be in high def.

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