Eric Anderson: Motorcycles in the Movies

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HOLLYWOOD. IT LOVES US — and hates us. It glamorizes motorcycles and demonizes the lifestyle at the same time. Or is that not the case anymore? Megan Fox's latest heartthrob image isn't under the hood of an old Camaro in the new "Transformers" movie, but instead is perched on the seat of a fat-tired chopper. Cool!

Motorcycles are basking in the positive light of Hollywood again. "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," "Terminator Salvation" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" all use motorcycles to glamorize their main characters and add real-world spice to overly specially-effected fantasy movies.

Actually, it's not a bad formula these days since many of us are seeking an escape from reality. Historically, the movie business has helped label us as rebels. Not just Brando in "The Wild One"; even before that it was "Charlie Chaplin & the Keystone Cops." Risk takers. Romancers. Rescuers. The stereotypes are all there — and always will be in Hollywood's eyes.

Documentaries like "On Any Sunday" don't count because they weren't made by artificial Hollywood types; they were real dirtbikers! Still, everyone in this industry owes Bruce Brown and his pals Steve McQueen and Malcolm Smith a huge debt of gratitude for doing more than anyone since Soichiro Honda for putting butts on bike seats. More recently "Faster" and "The Kentucky Kid" helped capture the excitement of MotoGP racing. Any coincidence that the U.S. now gets two rounds at Laguna Seca and Indianapolis?

As a customer and motorcycle enthusiast, I am always fascinated to see how some nonriding Hollywood director wants riding actors to look like for "his" movie. Take a look at this movie-by-movie labeling of what each did for motorcycling and see if I am off base.

REBELLION

"The Wild One" was certainly the first of a long series of outlaw movies right up through "Torque" (uggh), which pushed the social outcast image on viewers. All the greatest "B" biker movies of the '60s and '70s did the same thing by creating an image for bad girls to lust after. It's still working today.

SPEED

"The World's Fastest Indian" was actually a good movie worshipping the Gods of Speed through Kiwi dreamer Burt Munroe's eyes. In fact, it was a movie more about a dream that just happened to include motorcycles.

FREEDOM

"The Great Escape" literally drew a picture for the rest of us about what it's like to be a POW. The determination, commitment, innovation, preparation and patience. Finally, the ultimate motorcycle jump for freedom, extreme for its time. Steve McQueen and stuntman Bud Ekins made the world continue to fight (and ride) for freedom.

RISK

First George Hamilton as Evel Knievel in the legendary wild man's 1971 namesake movie showed off his tan, his agility and his character's wild side. Risk led to romance, respect and a ticket out of Butte, Mont. More modern stunters who carefully and professionally train at a very high level also show prowess after calculating their risks. Another extreme subcategory of the RISK genre I label DEATH WISH, which more or less includes the haphazard "Crusty Demons of Dirt" crowd and the new-age, crash-and-burn, YouTube-inspired destruction movies. (Jackass is a good term, in fact.)

ADVENTURE

"Easy Rider" was the first big adventure biker movie, in more ways than one. Adventure on the open road and in the open mind. Communes. Drugs. New Orleans. Rock & Roll. Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper — enough said!

ROMANCE

If you are over 50, you might remember "Roman Holiday" with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck zooming through Rome on a Vespa. Americans swooned over Italian style, grace and little scooters. Cute. Loveable, and an awesome prop for a couple in love. They don't make movies like that anymore. Basic biker films always include a guy and girl, but that doesn't always equal living happily ever after on the same scale as "Roman Holiday."

Regardless of what Hollywood's intended message may be, it all comes down to who gets the girl in the end. The rest is all crap, right? But we're all glad to pay $10 at a matinee to see how the motorcycle is used to eventually get that girl. Instead of "Roman Holiday," now we have Viagra commercials featuring ED-suffering Harley riders, but that is a rant for another time! Motorcycle guys still have it at any age!

Want to contest my judgment or add your own? Write to the editor and post your thoughts.

Longtime columnist Eric Anderson is vice president of Scorpion Sports. Contact him at eric@scorpionusa.com or via editors@dealernews.com.