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Narcissistic Sports Films

July 6, 2011

Yesterday, while awaiting breakfast in a Tahoe City cafe, I was gazing up at a television screen on which a variety of young men with chiseled torsos were undertaking daredevil activities on dirt bikes and other extreme sports paraphernalia.

What was interesting about the film was how much attention was paid to the act of filming. Many scenes showed guys setting up and fussing about with cameras. In one shot, a bloke on what looked like a rope swung valiantly on a rope or zipline between trees in the background with a camera in front of him, shooting one of his buddies performing a big stunt on a bike in the foreground. Perhaps the most "poetic" shot of the 15 minutes or so that I sat watching the screen involved three men squatting behind cameras as the sun went down on a sandy beach.

My initial reaction to all of this was to scoff a bit at the nonsense of all these egomaniacal men showing off their camera and bike skills. "You wouldn't see that in the arts world," I thought. "Artists film their process, sure, but they would never dream of being so narcissistic about it!"

But then, when I thought some more, I realized that there really isn't all that much difference between these kinds of sports films and films made by artists. They're both made in service of showing off an aspect of the work that doesn't typically get seen by people outside the closed community in which they operate. Dirt bike racing tends to happen down secluded mountain roads which are inaccessible to most people.

By making these films, the bikers reveal something of their world, a world that's normally hidden from view.

The only real difference when it comes down to it, is to do with financing. While all kinds of extreme sports brands sponsor the dirt bikers' movie (the slogans of a number of companies were plastered all over the credits at the end of the sequence) few films about artists' processes attract major sponsorship deals.

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