18 April 2016 | BJBatimdb
Pedal to the saucepan metal
I went to this screening of Battle Mountain expecting a film that would appeal to a niche market. Luckily it's quite a big niche, and the cinema was filled with fellow cyclists in an optimistic testament to how the sport has blossomed in the UK. But I left thinking that - with just a small consideration - it could easily find a wider market. The filmmaker, David Street, has produced an unexpectedly cinematic vision of a man on a home-made bicycle, and there's great pleasure to be had in watching Obree's quirky engineering choices (including rollerblades, a sideboard and a saucepan) and his infectious enthusiasm for a new cycling challenge.
Where the film falls just short is in assuming that its audience has prior knowledge of Obree's frankly incredible history in the sport of cycling. While it is covered, it's not covered in a way that would allow anyone but an enthusiast to really appreciate his journey. To enjoy any achievement, we need to understand its historical context. For instance, while it is the core of his story, the iconic Hour record is never explained, and so Obree's feat in breaking it on a home-made machine is so diminished that it may offer only passing interest to the unconverted, instead of astonishment. And for a film like this to find a wider audience it HAS to convert! There are moments like this throughout the film, where the emotional impact could have been exponentially heightened by the brief use of voice-over to explain WHY Obree's achievements have been so gobsmacking. Without those contextual pointers, his (literal) kitchen-sink struggle to push yet another cycling envelope is interesting and well made, but ultimately a little sterile. That's a shame when the man himself burns with passion for the subject and is an engaging on-screen presence.
There's always a fine line to be trod between patronising a knowledgeable audience, and under-informing an ignorant one. For me, Battle Mountain errs just on the side of the latter. It's admirable that it was made at all (with the help of Kickstarter) but without some context for emotional guidance, I fear it will remain of interest to a far smaller audience than it probably deserves.