Klunkerz (featuring Easter Candy): A Review

by Matt Hayes

This is a documentary by Billy Savage that recounts the pioneering days of mountain biking. I bought it on a whim at the Alpine Shop just after Christmas and finally got around to watching it. Originally purchased as "motivation" during longer trainer sessions, it never made it to the basement as I'm unfamiliar with long (over 60 minutes, are you kidding??) indoor training sessions. Too hard, too boring.

So it made perfect sense to zone out on a Thursday night in front of the bigscreen and continue to "recover" from the Ouachita Cha!!enge. A bowlful of Easter candy and a Miller Light on the table meant it was showtime.

Klunkerz tells the history of mountain biking through interviews, narratives, archival footage, and still photos. Industry legends, as well as some obscure characters, ride the way-back machine to set the record straight.

The documentary is almost 90 minutes not including the 5 bonus features. Like Dogtown & Z-Boys, the old film footage is jumpy but it's simply amazing that someone even captured the action in the mid-to-late seventies - remember this is before ipods, wikipedia and cell-phone video recorders. Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey, Charlie Kelley, Joe Breeze and Charlie Cunningham, among others, provide extensive insight into the past through their interviews, photographs and home videos.

Using crusty, bomb-proof Schwinn Excelsiors, the guys rode all around Marin county and Mt. Tam. Much of the historical footage comes from the Repack races and a few awesome crashes are captured. The best part of Klunkerz is the verbal flowchart that ties all the big names together. You learn that Ritchey was utilized by Gary Fisher's upstart company who was financed by an outsider who had been-there/done-that 20 years prior off-road, how the manufacturing pioneers slowly grew apart and that basically they were all hippies who eventually became businessmen.

I learned a lot about the sport. I learned that no matter what bike I'm riding I'm not allowed to bitch about its spec, weight or handling. I learned that if a Surly Karate Monkey cobbled together with a Redline front fork, Tektro mechanical discs, Truvativ Stylo crankset and a Fuji-branded tree stump masking as a saddle was T-boned by a DeLorean doing 88 in a 35 and that said K'Monkey was geographically knocked clear back to 1980 onto the Repack starting line it would be considered some competitive space-age shiznat! Someone would trade 4 pounds of weed for its secrets and before you know it the Karate Monkey would be the hottest thing to ever grace a VeloNews cover, the space-time continuum would be frayed, you would never be born, I would be rich and Dr. Octagon would be leader of the free world. Something like that. Damn this skitzofrenya.

Time to cash it at the recycling center...

What? Oh.

It's a great documentary and DVD. The small budget coupled with very limited archival media raises a few minor viewing issues. (Editor's Note: Billy Savage responded with some terrific insight on the making of Klunkerz in the Blog comments area. Check his comments here.) There are several repeated clips and the interviews are a bit static. For every character in the film the same interview location was used for their respective segments. What's important - and this is where Klunkerz shines - is that the riding masses discover where the awesome fun-ness of off-roading came from. Rumors are unravelled, personalities are explored and we find out that racing is in fact the mother of invention.

The bonus features include a philanthropic segment on Joe Breeze, Tom Ritchey, and Gary Fisher, a brief recap on the making of Klunkerz, and some other Klunkerz-related video clips.

Out of Easter candy and after midnight, I crashed out and dreamed about riding Pearl Pass in Crested Butte, CO. This is a must-watch DVD that ranks among the top 5 that capture the essence of mountain biking. Unlike YouTube quality, adrenaline-hyped 35 minute bike porn that Pricepoint.com literally shovels into your shopping cart for $1.99, Klunkerz sits on the top shelf with the likes of 24Solo and Off-Road to Athens. Support director, writer and producer Billy Savage by buying Klunkerz. I heard he took a financial wrecking ball to the chin for this film and it's not helping when people download his hard work on Torrent-shopper.russianbackup.ru/fo'real.

Watch it.


klunkerbill said...

Thanks for the support. I really appreciate you giving the film a push. Klunkerz is my first film, and I made plenty of mistakes along the way. It's really an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as those other films. If it's cool, I thought I might address some of your comments.

I'm really sorry you felt the archival 'media' was limited. I was amazed at what I found, so much of which had never really been seen before by the viewing public. I utilized works of 18 photographers who contributed 100s of photos, the vast majority coming from Wende and Larry Cragg's archive. I looked at thousands more. The moving film footage came from four different sources. Unfortunately, some of the stuff I found wasn't able to be saved. Film is fragile, and needs to be cared for if it's to survive for long periods. Some of the film had been sitting in musty basements and garages in old coffee cans and damp cardboard boxes for decades. I had to chase some of the 16mm stuff from here to a remote village in Brazil, literally. Every frame of the archival footage had to be cleaned, lubricated, edited together, digitized, worked on (restored), and color-corrected frame by frame on a Da Vinci. Now it's preserved for future generations. I'm thrilled about that, since a lot of these images were falling apart and needed a restoration to be viewable at all.

The interviews required more than a dozen trips to the Bay Area over an 18 month period to acquire. I interviewed several of the subjects multiple times, sometimes in different locations, sometimes not. They are in the film. Joe Breeze, Gary Fisher, Charlie Kelly, etc. are shot in at least 2 locations. I believe 20 or 21 locations were used for just the interviews. I also tried to meet everyone before sticking a camera and boom mic in their face. I met them at places like The Sea Otter Classic and InterBike, but I didn't want to interview them in those environments. I wanted to wait and catch them where the lived and worked. In all, I shot just over 100 hours of footage over those 18 months.

The final version of the film is 82 minutes. In that 82 minutes there are more than 1500 edits culled from those 100 hours of footage. I tried to figure out a way to not have a single jump cut. There are two in there, and you'll have to look hard to find them. Anyway, that amount of cutting required 40+ hours of editing per week with a pro editor, and me pre editing and logging shots, for more than six months.

The DVD extras were all created after the fact. The only segment that came from the original film was the charitable 'Good Works' section. J.F. Scott was murdered not long after I interviewed him. I did the J.F. Scott memorial as a tribute to him, and I dedicated the film to his memory. You can see sections of the tribute film I did for his posthumous Mountain Bike Hall of Fame induction here....

J.F. Scott Pt. 1
That was the guy who did it 20 years earlier.
J.F. Scott Pt. 2
J.F. Scott Pt. 4

Klunkerz was the most amazing work related experience of my life, and I've had some amazing experiences. I met some amazing people, and made some new friends along the way. Although the film may never break even, it has raised more than $100, 000.00 for charitable causes all around the world. I've never been a philanthropist, so that's okay in my book. I also feel that I might have stimulated people to look back at the past a bit, maybe repair a few old relationships, and spread some cycling goodwill. These guys really did reinvent the wheel, after all.

I hope the film might inspire people go though those old coffee cans and damp cardboard boxes and save these precious materials. Who knows, maybe someone will want to make another bike movie someday. If any of you out there are considering it, please don't use your own money.

Ride on,
Billy Savage

seamonkey said...

I had to repost this because my modem blew up and I wasn't finished...

After reading your response I have to commend your work and efforts! See, reading things like this that aren't on the DVD (what you went through, the process, etc.) is super interesting. A DVD about making the DVD could be made as it's just as interesting. I'm amazed at how you were able to piece it all together, track the footage down and produce a cohesive, comprehensive narrative.

So in retrospect, I'm not criticizing the film and would hope that my overall review is way positive because I'm a big fan of the film.

Is there any chance that you will ever do a follow-up about the early designs/culture/people, say, from 1985-95?

klunkerbill said...

No problems. I didn't take your review as a criticism...I really appreciate it. I really like to hear what people like...and don't like. Hopefully that's the stuff that will make me a better filmmaker. I just thought I could give you some insight as to the process of doing a documentary. I had no idea what I was getting into, and I really thought I did. I was prepared not to make any money, but I didn't think I'd lose this much after all the great reviews in The New York Times, USA Today, MovieMaker Magazine, STUFF Magazine, Movie Magazine International and ALL the bike magazines. It was a real eye opener for me. You need consistent marketing, advertising and support, and I don't have any of that. I rely on cool people in the cycling community like yourself to keep awareness about the film going. As far as making another documentary film about bikes, I think it's pretty doubtful, unless someone wants to pay me a decent amount of money for doing it. I've still got more than $100,000.00 in personal loans outstanding on Klunkerz, and it's been for sale for nearly two years. I'll never live to pay it off. It took me two years to make it and three years to promote it through film festivals benefit screenings and so on. It's torn me up worse than any endo I've ever taken (and I've taken a few). We'll see what the future holds, but when you sell 3000 copies of a movie that 50,000 people illegally download for free off of ONE website, you can see what independent filmmakers are up against. And there's no way to stop it. If only 25% of the people off of that one website actually bought the movie, I'd be close to paying it off, but that's the world we live in now. All the 'bike porn' movies in this marketplace don't care about illegal downloads. They want as many people to see them as possible, since they're just commercials for the bike, clothing, and accessory companies anyway. Everyone involved is paid before they even shoot the movie. I tried to do something different, and I'm paying the price, literally. I'm still stoked I did it, because someone would have done it eventually and it would have been one of the big bike companies. The real story would have been lost amongst all the product placement and egos. For me, and the general cycling population, that would have been a real loss. A very cool slice of California history would have been radically distorted to stroke someone's ego and help a company's bottom line. I got to do it my way and that's all I ever really wanted anyway. Well, that and not to lose everything in the process. The jury's still out on that one:). Thanks again for the support and I hope our trails cross one day.
Ride on,