Brittown Movie Screening Review
A Meatball Rides Old Brit Bikes
A single motorcycle in the distance races toward the camera along a lonely, undulating two-lane road somewhere in the desert. The screaming note coming from the bike's unfettered exhaust grows louder by the second as the bike gets closer until the bike and rider fill the screen and thunder past ... (fade to black) Brittown.
How much are motorcycles part of your life? Do you use them for commuting, or taking trips? Or do you race once a month, and pile into the family SUV the rest of the time? Maybe you're a weekend warrior who needs to leave the strife of the work week behind and thunder down the boulevard letting the pulse of the motor and exhaust penetrate every ounce of your being? I would guess that those few generalizations cover the majority of us who saddle up to a two wheeler. But there are those that exist in a culture where motorbikes are at the core of life.
For my money few in motorcycledom truly live a culture of bikes like the devotees of vintage British iron. Not only do they ride old bikes, many of them are throw-backs to the whole era from whence those bikes came. Their manner of dress, music listened to, hairstyles and make-up can have you feeling you've stepped back in time when you meet or see them.
A time machine might as well have served as my transpo to the screening of Brittown: a British Motorcycle Documentary held recently in Santa Monica, CA, because when I arrived I was in the midst of a swarming horde of just such folks. Hundreds of people -- Rockabilly, greasers and the like -- arrived on their chopped and bobbed bikes of various European origin with a few older UJMs in the mix, filling the theater to capacity for what was billed as an invite-only event. Guess word travels fast in this corner of motorcycling.
This latest film from the makers of the critically-acclaimed Choppertown: The Sinners may be titled to lead you to believe it's about Brit bikes, but the reality is the movie chronicles the life of one guy who truly lives old British bikes.
This documentary follows the life of Jeff "Meatball" Tulinius for a few months, giving us a look at someone who's various aspects of his life are underpinned by bikes. Meatball owns the Hell on Wheels motorcycle shop that he informs us he moved to the garage of his vintage home in Anaheim, CA, and serves as the backdrop to the film as he rebuilds a 1971 Triumph Bonneville, a bike near and dear to his heart. Interspersed throughout the various stages of rebuild where Meatball gives us a detailed description of what he's doing to breathe life into the old Twin are glimpses of what he does with the rest of his life when not wrenching.
Can you guess what that might be? If you figured there was an old bike in there somewhere, you were right on the nose. Meatball loves to ride and race his collection of crusty machines. We follow him to Perris Raceway in Perris, CA where he bombs around the dirt oval on his vintage flattracker, to Lake Elsinore to watch him compete in the long-running Gran Prix on a vintage British motocrosser, and then to Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, CA where he roadraces yet another of his classics.
What endeared me to Meatball and many of his cronies was the simple fact that, though they love old machines, none of them are pristine restorations that we see so many of today -- not that this a bad thing. All their bikes run, but they're also ridden and most of them aren't pretty. These guys don't polish the tank once a month and burble to the local shop on Saturday to gush about all their two-wheeled know-how. They ride these ancient beasts, and they ride 'em hard. The people in the film are like the classic bikes central to the scene: genuine. Meatball's "shop" is a good example of this as it's really an unorganized assortment of bikes and parts crammed into every available space, just like so many of our garages or work spaces
As for the film itself, camera action is good (including plenty of on-board footage) if a bit shaky at times, but I chose to see the jittery hand-held action as a way of authenticating the down-to-earth life that the characters live. If you're not exactly a gearhead you may not be so engrossed during the many scenes chronicling the bike rebuild, but just about the time your mind starts to wander, the film cuts to another part of Meatball's life, like singing in his band Smiling Face Down. Now, I'm not really into the whole Rockabilly thing, but that Meatball is one good singer. And many of the other bands given screen time at one of the many hangouts featured are good too. The music really helps make the movie, and is one more aspect so integral to this biking lifestyle.
If you enjoyed Choppertown, like old bikes or dig the hardcore vintage scene, then you're gonna like Brittown and Meatball. It's entertaining, funny at times and a great peek into a biking culture not normally given its due.
The film is set to be released on a special-edition DVD March 30, 2008 and can be pre-ordered through http://www.brittown.com/. According to co-director Zack Coffman, final distribution is yet being worked out for theatrical release and the film is purportedly gaining attention from many film festivals eager to have it shown.
|In their words...|
Midway through the film I nearly became obsessed with the question of "Why Meatball?" I was compelled to learn what drew the filmmakers to this person as a subject. And I was also interested in learning more about the directors and their company, One World Studios, since this is the second motorcycle-centric film from them. They are, after all, one of very few who are wholeheartedly "fighting for the cause" of motorcycles. --Pete Brissette
Scott Di Lalla: The first time Zack and I actually heard anyone utter the name “Meatball” was during one of our Choppertown shoots. While we were shooting Sinners member Dustin working on his Triumph, he was explaining to us how he just picked his new carburetors up from this guy named Meatball. Afterwards Zack and I asked Dustin who this guy Meatball was. He said with a serious tone that Meatball was basically one of the best British motorcycle mechanics this life had to offer. Dustin went on telling us how Meatball worked on his motor and that he builds some of the fastest and cleanest motors around.
What was the single most compelling reason you chose to chronicle this person's life?
Zack Coffman: After meeting him for the first time Scott and I both knew he was our guy. His understated nature makes you want to get to know him further, his love and passion for vintage motorcycles could inspire those who don’t even ride and the warmth he exudes just makes you want to be his friend. It’s refreshing to see that Meatball’s love for motorcycles doesn’t falter when he closes his shop at the end of the day; he lives and breathes it in every aspect of his life.
Was there one aspect of making the film that you found particularly difficult, i.e. filming riding scenes, getting people to be on film (shyness, etc.), gaining physical access to something or place, etc..?
Scott: For Zack and me, shooting the riding scenes are always challenging; though in retrospect very amusing. Imagine driving on a freeway somewhere in Southern California and you are approaching a handful of bikes trailing behind or in front of an old, slightly beat-up, ‘84 diesel guzzling Benz…suddenly a person pops out of the sunroof of the Benz with a shoulder mounted camera. It’s that spontaneity that makes these riding scenes work. Most times the riding shots go well as long as we don’t run into that bored and curious CHP officer. Other than a few bruises and the difficult task of communicating with Zack through the wind, it all pays off in the end. Full speed riding is kind of a trademark of ours, we like to capture scenes that are real even if we have to take a few risks.
"It’s been a long time since someone made a good motorcycle movie that captured the spirit and the lifestyle like “On Any Sunday”, “Easy Rider” and “The Wild One.”
Zack: When you shoot real people doing what they do, it’s definitely a challenge making them feel comfortable. We like the stories and the characters to unfold at a natural pace; this can happen right away or it can take time. You have to be very patient and sensitive when it comes to capturing someone’s life. A lot of “reality” films these days are all about exhibitionism; our movies are about a small piece of someone’s life. “Brittown” is Meatball’s slice.
This is the second "biker" film from One World, correct? Why has One World chosen two, somewhat similar premises for movies about certain aspects of motorcycling culture?
Scott: The simplest answer is we love bikes and the culture surrounding them. I’ve been into motorcycles since I was able to talk. I remember every time a bike appeared in a movie it would pique my interest. It’s been a long time since someone made a good motorcycle movie that captured the spirit and the life style like “On Any Sunday”, “Easy Rider” and “The Wild One.” Zack and I were bouncing ideas off each other as far back as 98’, but it wasn’t easy turning our ideas into a real movie. When choppers and custom bikes broke into the spotlight on TV, we knew it was time to buckle down and get moving. I couldn’t relate to a $100,000 show bike that never sees over a mile of road. My first bike was a 71’ Harley, $1000 and it didn’t run. Now that was exciting! We wanted to make a film about that kind of excitement, about the regular Joe building a bike in his back yard or in his humble shop. A bike built to ride and ride hard. It was time to recapture the spirit of motorcycling in a movie.
What, if any, future projects does One World have that may be related to motorcycling, or any motorsport for that matter?
Zack: We’re developing several projects right now, both in and out of the motorsport worlds, but the first will be a follow-up to Brittown about a hand-built bobber that the Brittown motor goes into…
Scott: Motorcycles have always been a hobby of mine. I love working on bikes and riding them and I’ve rebuilt a few motors in the past. In my early teens I would pull apart my dirt bikes, including the motor, and restore everything back to new. These days I’m more interested in learning fabricating and welding. I’ve been learning a lot from my good friend Earl at Earl’s Cycleart. Earl is like the Van Gogh of British bobbers.
I have a '69 bobber style Triumph and a '71 café style Triumph, and both are under construction. For a few years now I’ve been riding a 1984 Honda Nighthawk. Not pretty but very reliable. Zack has a super clean café style '76 CB750 F. I love that bike. Even though we both enjoy riding we wish had a little more free time to do it.
Zack: I actually learned to ride about five years ago. We were getting very serious about putting together a bike project and I refused to write about anything that I couldn’t at least do at an amateur level…so I joined the MSF and took the course. It was pretty nerve-wracking to try and pick it up at 31 years of age and I’d never done any other kind of riding as a kid…I remember the first day one guy got throttle fright and plowed his 250cc training bike into a parking barrier! I have a habit of picking things up and I don’t let go until I achieve my goal so I finally passed the course and got my license. Now I ride fairly often and especially enjoy the camaraderie of riding with buddies.