Stories of Bike series
Directed by Cam Elkins
From the “actualities” of the Lumière Brothers to the magical Melies’ narratives, the short film served as a foundation for what soon became a full-fledged film industry. Even as features rose in popularity and eventually took over the entertainment landscape, short films served as introductory cartoons and informative newsreels. Over time the short film faded from theatrical exhibition, relegated to arenas like festivals and student films, but the age of the Internet brought back this clever format with a fury. Social media outlets like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Vimeo, etc. call upon users to supply content and as a result the short film enjoys new life. This review explores online short films dedicated to motorcycling, specifically the Stories of Bike series created by Australian, Cam Elkins.
I was first exposed to this project and the filmmaker while attending the 2014 Motorcycle Film Festival in Brooklyn, New York (www.motorcyclefilmfestival.com). A labor of love established by Corinna Mantlo and Jack Fury, the Motorcycle Film Festival serves as an opportunity for filmmakers to present their motorcycle movies to true enthusiasts. At the 2014 event Elkins screened a film simply named, “Romance.” As is so often the case, the title proved misleading and the road ventured down more interesting than expected.
Romance | September 21, 2013
“Romance” focuses on the bike building of Chris Atkinson and one assumes that topic would remain central, but as the film reveals, the bikes serve merely as a vehicle for the romance between Chris and his ailing wife Karen. In this moving film, Elkins interviews both Chris and Karen as a means of chronicling their relationship and unfortunately the cancer that would take Karen’s life. Protagonist and viewer alike succumb to tears, in the process learning that a passion for bikes bonds both family and friends. As Karen fights cancer, her boys (Chris and their two sons) unite over motorcycles. Chris has a customized Triumph Tiger hardtail that he loves to ride and describes in detail, but clearly the rides he takes with Karen, especially those last few astride their BMW GS, will remain lifelong memories. These elements point to the unique characteristics of Elkins’ work. Unlike the “bike build offs” that so often clutter our airwaves, his films tell personal stories. There are no loyalties to manufacturers across his work, no elements of contrived competition, or curiously customized machines. Instead, his films show the relationships we as riders have with each other by way of our preferred mode of transport.
Following the festival I sought the opportunity to explore Elkins work further. His website includes a range of films, dealing with a variety of topics. “Discovery,” shot while attending the festival in 2014 highlights the motorcycle moments/memories of Kristen Reed, a United Nations Translator fed up with public transit, seeking independence via two wheels. Reed falls in love with a used Triumph Bonneville and the opportunities it presents. She buys the bike, customizes it in modest fashion, and rides it to work on a routine basis. The bike and rider illustrate what motorcycles represent to many people—freedom—and not in some abstract form, but in the literal sense that she can ride when and where she wants.
Discovery | July 2, 2015
The series continues with other works, many more than can be discussed in this review, but allow me touch on a couple standouts. “Answers” tells the tale of Jonathan Gibson and his desire to ride a 1969 Royal Enfield from Sydney to London. A young man seeking adventure realizes his familial connection to motorcycles (both his dad and grandfather ride) and he hopes to understand that bond (motorcycles, manhood, growing up, etc.) by embarking on a solo ride allowing time for considerable reflection on his life, his family, and his future. Additionally, films like “Sister” and “Dream” further illustrate the diversity in motorcycling, focusing on women who ride. In “Sister” Maria Adzersen recognizes the tight connections she has with both her best friend and her mother as a result of riding. Adzersen’s mother served as a role model, inspiring Maria to ride. Adzersen takes to two wheels with the same zeal as her mother and does so alongside best friend Nina Hoglund. They explore Australia on motorcycles and breakdown expectations and stereotypes while en route. Jodie Rigg, a postal carrier, serves as a similar example in the telling film “Dream.” An individual who clearly had a difficult childhood, as the film hints at issues surrounding sexual orientation and acceptance; she turns to motorcycles as a reprieve from her troubles at home, school, and work. Eventually, Rigg realizes her true passion in life, motorcycles, and turns that into a career as a “postie” (a motorcycle mail carrier).
Answers | July 31, 2014
Sister | October 24, 2014
Dream | March 13, 2014
Elkins shoots each of these subjects with care and affords them the attention they deserve. He integrates interviews and mixes in memorable montages of riding. The camera soaks in sunlight and righteous roads as ride and rider scream past the filmmaker in what informed viewers understand as “motorcycle enthusiasm.” Elkins lingers on levers and leather with the dedication a fellow rider knows and loves. Now this is not to say every film under Elkins’ direction is a winner, but as a collection he definitely gets “it” right. That difficult to define “it” factor is the reason we all throw a leg over our machines and head off to the horizon, wind in our hair, blah, blah, blah… Now, I do not mean to make light of our relationship with motorcycles, quite the contrary, like Elkins I consider this a serious topic and appreciate when others regard the subject with similar reverence. For academics looking to explore new avenues of motorcycling in movies, the short format work of Cam Elkins presents plentiful prospects. His professionally presented website, along with the accompanying YouTube channel, showcase his titles in a fresh and easily navigated fashion. With carefully constructed camerawork and melodic music by his brother Jack Elkins, Cam Elkins has furnished a filmography worthy of further exploration by our readership. So, please seek out his contributions to our field and decide for yourself if the Stories of Bike and their short film format are the next phase in motorcycle movie history.
Christian Pierce is a Copywriter/Editor with Turner Classic Movies in Atlanta, Georgia. He studied Film and Television Production at the University of Notre Dame before moving on to graduate level Film Studies at Emory University and later the History of Technology at Georgia Tech, focusing on biker films and the motorcycle industry. He complimented those studies with a trade degree in Motorcycle Service Technology from Georgia Piedmont Technical College. He has examined a vast array of subjects/themes from the development of alternative fuel motorcycles to manufacturer histories for Buell, Confederate, Motus, and Royal Enfield. At present, he rides a 2001 Suzuki SV650, a 2002 Suzuki Bandit 1200, a 2005 Suzuki DRZ400SM, and a 2008 Kawasaki Ninja 650. He also has a 1994 Yamaha Virago 535 in desperate need of a rebuild.