They say money makes the world go round, and in this case, it also sent the movie reels rollin’. The making of the 88-minute documentary Greasy Hands Preachers, a cinematic ode to the soul-nurturing value of getting your hands dirty doing what you love, in this instance building custom motorcycles, took the talent, dedication and commitment of the film makers. Next, toss in the participation of several of the planet’s leading bike builders, $103,705 pledged via Kickstarter group funding by a ton of people from all over the world, and cap it off with some corporate coin from BMW Motorrad, Motul, and Belstaff. Bottom line, it was a global group effort with thousands of hands literally reaching into their pockets to make the production of Greasy Hand Preachers a reel-ality. Among the backers was bike fan Orlando Bloom, who is listed as one of the Executive Producers and who appears in the film obviously having a blast.
First impression as the film rolled was, “thank the Celluloid Gods, they shot it in real film stock, Super 16mm, in fact, not the techno-coldness of digital video.” The resulting warm, diffuse color reflects an underlying theme, the very human passion that infuses the film where guys rely on a bunch of hand tools to shape kinetic art and how it enhances their lives.
With scenes set in the U.S., including SoCal and Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, as well as Spain, France, Scotland, and Indonesia, the “cast” appears in up-close and personal encounters. Bike builders Shinya Kimura of Chabott Engineering, Roland Sands of RS Designs, David Boras and the crew of El Solitario (Spain), Michael “Woolie” Woolaway from Deus ex Machina, Shannon Sweeney of SS Classics (both L.A.-based), Fred Jourden and Hugo Jezegabel of Blitz Motorcycles (Paris) with other industry/sport movers and shakers make appearances.
While the film had its red-carpet World Premiere at the 62nd San Sebastian Film Festival in the picturesque Basque Spanish beach town back in late September 2014, its premiere in Los Angeles took place March 29 at the funky cool AERO Theater on Brentwood’s posh Montana Avenue.
An equally funky cool mix of bikes of all flavors nuzzled up to the curb in front of the theater, their riders chatting awhile before heading inside, free of charge, to take in the film. Word was floating around that Keanu Reeves would show up but no luck, probably stuck in the Matrix somewhere. Still, Roland Sands and Shinya Kimura, as well as Orlando Bloom, were in attendance. Roland and Shinya are certainly two of the topmost designers, and while at opposite ends of the custom stick – one super slick cool, the other super gnarly cool – you could say it’s a case of East and West meeting through a shared poetry in motion and spirit.
Inside the theater’s cozy auditorium, the seats filled up, helmets and leather jackets piled here and there, and as the house lights dimmed, I took out pen and notebook and scribbled a few semi-legible thoughts as the movie rolled on in five chapter segments. One was titled “Winning is Great If That is All You Can Do.” Yeah, the film sometimes gets Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycling-ish but in a gritty real way that actually focuses more on flesh-and-blood people rather than on any particular motorcycle. I think this helps keep the element of competition out of the formula. What comes forward is the sense of cooperation and comradeship that spans several continents.
While various languages are spoken in the film, captioning, when necessary, was in English. Like they say, poetry is something that is lost in translation, but in this case, the images and common thread of intention projected by all the builders filled any linguistic gaps. There are a lot of close-ups and dialogue in the various shops and not a whole bunch of “action” per se, but there is just enough to highlight and punctuate the discourse. One long shot of 10 bikes flying down a foggy mountain road was enough to feed your head for a long while after you left the theater. Also, I give two thumbs up to the sound track, again a blend of styles with some of it original music by director Clement Beauvais.
Shinya Kimura, when he spoke, seemed to mold his thoughts into haiku-like phrases as he emphasized the importance of balancing the technical, aesthetic and powerful draw on some of us by motorcycles – “the vulnerability and the thrill,” as Shinya puts it. You also learn stuff about the builders, like that Shinya had set out studying Entomology (bugs), in Japan, and that he designed movie monsters for fun growing up. Seeing his bikes, you can see a hint of that coming through.
While he founded the Zero Engineering workshop in Okazaki, Japan – so named for his minimalistic design approach – in the film he refers to his previous method of creating the designs then orchestrating a crew to build the bike. Later, he decided to hunker down and hand-build bikes by himself, setting up shop in Azusa, California, to make metal magic.
Then there’s laughing along with Roland Sands when the crusty old Husqvarna dirt bike he’s riding breaks down, and he’s cursing away at first. Next, he starts taking the bike apart, chuckling every time he pulls out a chunk of metal, saying, “well, this doesn’t belong there, and this doesn’t belong there.” In the end, with a little help and tools from friends, he gets the Husky up and running. He also speaks to how growing up roadracing while simultaneously designing custom Harley parts for his father’s business inspired him to come up with his unique custom sportbike blend.
I’ll admit it, I didn’t know some of the European builders, and some captions with names and locations might have helped. Still, the film got me up to speed. The “collective” group of wrenches at the Paris Blitz Motors looked like they were having the time of their lives every minute of the day, and in fact, were. Then there’s David Borras of El Solitario, the controversial Spanish bike builder who left the white-collar world for the blue-collar life and is loving it, saying something like, whatever it is, from butterflies to bikes, do whatever passion powers you. Since the guys who made the flick are French, let’s sum up the film as an expression of motorcycle joi de vivre.
Well, that’s my take, now go see it yourself and add your reactions to the mix, since mix is what it’s all about. Currently you can catch, rent or buy Greasy Hands Preachers on Vimeo. Screenings are forthcoming in New York, San Francisco and elsewhere.