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Bikes on Film

By Ken Kaminski

Police Beat
As the opening credits roll on Police Beat, a 2005 film by writer/director Robinson Devor, multiple exposures of a table graph of abbreviations slide around in every direction. This table is printed on a wall above a bank of computers at the Seattle Police Department where Z, a Senegalese immigrant and bicycle cop, writes his reports, and the abbreviations represent categories that Z must assign to his reports. Although the table looms large physically over the room, over Z, and over the atmosphere of the film, he finds it impossible to fit the calls to which he responds—usually grisly, rarely sensical, and all based on real-life Seattle police reports—into the police departments categorical order, nor can he seem to fit the events of his own personal life into any order that makes sense.

There’s a lot of the kind of humor typical of fish-out-of-water scenarios, but unlike commercial fish-out-of-water movies, the hero’s innocence and fresh perspective don’t result in his triumph in the face of an unfamiliar situation, but in his failure at his job, and everywhere Z goes, he is abused and belittled, even in the face of his authority as a police officer. Against his frustrated efforts to get promoted to a patrol car, the bicycle turns into a symbol of this humiliation. While not exactly a celebration of urban bicycle riding, the feeling is at least authentic. I hope that, if nowhere else, I can admit in these pages that riding a bicycle on the streets of an American city is often unpleasant, and urban riders are belittled in the images of an autocentric culture. This is reflected, perhaps, in the self-righteous diatribe of a cyclist Z cites for riding recklessly in the park, the only other perspective on city riding available in this movie, and it’s extremely brief. It pains me, however, to acknowledge how accurate it is, so I assume Devor is at least familiar with the culture.

This movie is dark and subtle with small moments of whimsy. If you’re not in the mood for something slow and quiet, you’ll be bored easily. If you’ve got the patience to pay attention to it, you might be rewarded with some food for thought and maybe with some minor depression, despite Z’s ultimate hope, which he clings to for no other reason than his own painstakingly established character.

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Bikes on Film Archive

The Bicycle Thief - Issue #1
Bicycle Film Festival 2007 - Issue #2
Ski Boys - Issue #7
Bicycle Film Festival 2008 - Issue #8
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure - Issue #9
2 Seconds - Issue #10
B.I.K.E. - Issue #12
Breaking Away - Issue #13
Rad - Issue #15