September 2, 2011
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A long-lost 1979 motorcycle documentary from iconic filmmaker Peter Starr. Take It To The Limit is a comprehensive overview of motorcycle racing a la On Any Sunday?only a decade later.

WHAT’S IT COST? $24.95.


WHAT STANDS OUT? Here’s a list of things that stand out with Take It To The Limit.

(1) Backstory. The British-born Starr set out to capture the wide world of motorcycle racing in the late ’70s. Take It To The Limit follows the same arc as Bruce Brown’s On Any Sunday. The film covers speedway, desert racing, road racing, hill climb, grass track, drag racing, trials, sidecars, dirt track and motocross by focusing on one major star in each discipline. The all-in-one approach means that motocross is just one of many parts of this enterprise. The featured players are Mike Hailwood, Kenny Roberts, A.C. Bakken, Roger DeCoster, Debbie Evans, Barry Sheene, Russ Collins, Steve Baker, Mick Andrews, Marty Smith and Mike Bast.

(2) Cinematography. Considering that this was shot in 1979, Peter Starr was on the cutting edge of technology. His on-the-bike camera angles?done with heavy Arriflex, Photosonic and GSAP 16mm film cameras and battery packs?are better than anything GoPro could do 30 years later. The camera work is rock steady, and there are many lush opening shots that make you want to go riding.

(3) Length. The movie is 97 minutes long and shown in the wide-screen format (in 5.1 Dolby surround sound). There is a 30-minute bonus “retrospective” that features interviews with the stars 30 years later. Weirdly, there is also a claymation music video of Arlo Guthrie’s “I Don’t Want A Pickle” song (with a cameo by Guthrie himself).

(4) Audience. We hate to say it, but unless you are over the age of 40, the major players in this movie will seem more like historical figures than motorcycle racing stars. Take It To The Limit was only shown for six months back in the summer of 1980 before it got tied up in distribution politics. By the time the distribution rights were resolved in 1981, Take It To The Limit was considered too old to be released again. Now, 30 years later, the movie is more of a portal to the viewers’ personal memories than an action-packed documentary. You need to know the players to appreciate the movie.

(5) Best moments. The footage of Roger DeCoster racing in the mud is amazing?not just for the amount of goop, but for his effortless riding style. Peter Starr was at the Indy Mile when Kenny Roberts raced the infamous four-cylinder Yamaha TZ750 dirt tracker, and Starr’s cameras captured the last-lap pass that got the bike banned. Additionally, the hillclimb crash sequence, Isle of Man footage and Debbie Evans’ headstand on a trials bike are all memorable. The Dolby sound complements the Foreigner soundtrack.

WHAT’S THE SQUAWK? The pacing of Take It To The Limit is very casual. Peter Starr’s camera inevitably lingers too long on his establishing shots, and the buildup to the action seems to drag the film into slow motion. Perhaps this was the style of the late ’70, but those who grew up in the MTV generation will find the leisurely pace very irritating.

Take It To The Limit is like a time capsule from another century exposed during an earthquake. It is a window into a different era.


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