Review for On Any Sunday
Following the incredible success of his legendary surf documentary, The Endless Summer, Bruce Brown wanted to repeat the success with a another ‘sport’; all forms of extreme motor bike racing. If at first, the leap between surfing and motor-biking seems a bit disconnected, it becomes clear, when watching the films back to back, that there are actually many similarities. Each involves staying upright and moving ever onwards, despite sometimes unpredictable ‘surfaces’. Watching many of the motorbike jump scenes here, you recognize the self-same skills needed in surfing.
But motor-biking is also extremely visual and often nail-bitingly exciting; elements that have massive appeal for Brown as a documentary film-maker and adventurous lifestyle pioneer.
It probably didn’t hurt that his friend and supporter, Steve McQueen, perhaps most famous for his incredible motorbike jump in ‘The Great Escape’, was such a fan of the sport himself and actually one of its most passionate participants. As it turns out, McQueen may never have ridden professionally, but he was a very decent rider, showing off his considerable agility and talent several times throughout the film.
Opening with an era defining sequence of young kids riding up a hill on the chopper style push-bikes, it’s a short link from this to the rest of the film, which focuses on competitions and challenges and races the world over.
The focus of the film is initially on the 28 year old Mert Lawwil, a dedicated biker who is determined to defend his number one title in the prestigious Grand National Championships despite one disaster after another, ranging from simple mechanical faults to serious accidents. What shines through though Is the incredible dedication of the man who, with virtually no help, maintains his own bikes and who drives hundreds of miles throughout the night to reach a race in time.
Later, the film shifts to following the ever-grinning, bike shop owning Malcolm Smith, who is great friends with Steve McQueen, as he travels the USA and Spain to participate in a really wide range of biking challenges, some of which look positively gruelling.
The style throughout is a very naturalistic documentary approach with a droll, often humorous talk-track from Brown himself. He manages to sustain the interest and excitement for the duration (90 minutes) and, in common with Endless Summer, no previous knowledge of the sport is required in order to enjoy the film.
The footage, in common with Endless Summer, is fantastic. Slow motion is frequently used to show bikes flying though the air or to highlight the seriousness of crashes, but despite a few grim moments, the over-riding sense is of the fun and freedom that riding can invoke.
There is a vast range of race styles on show, from standard track racing to super-fast drag attempts at speed records, to gruelling all night marathon rides though forests and mountains, as well as well attended on-the-road Grand Prix and attempts to ride over a large hill with an almost impossible gradient.
It’s a lot of fun, even from a non-enthusiast like me.
The image quality is wildly variable and all shot on 16mm so you won’t get a very high definition viewing experience. That said, it’s substantially better than versions of the film easily found on You Tube. It’s probably as good a copy as you’re ever likely to get.
There are some very decent features too, just as there were for ‘Endless Summer’. These include ‘On Any Sunday Revisited’ a feature length documentary featuring much footage which didn’t make the final cut of the film in the early 1970s.
If you love bikes, decent documentaries or both – or are a sucker for early seventies time capsules like this one, ‘On Any Sunday’ is a fun way to spend an evening. Well worth picking up.