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Sequel to the classic ’71 documentary provides further insight into the sport.
BY SUSAN CARPENTER/ STAFF WRITER
It’s a daunting task to create the sequel to any major film success, let alone one that has long been considered the standard by which every other motorcycle documentary is judged. The 1971 classic, “On Any Sunday,” not only humanized and demystified the multifaceted and often misunderstood sport of motorcycling, it elevated its stars to a mythical status that endures today.
Malcolm Smith, Mert Lawwill, Steve McQueen – “On Any Sunday” chronicled their racing lives up close and in full color, showing the breadth of motorcycling from the 100-mph skids and wipeouts of flat tracking to 1,000-mile endurance desert races through Mexico and everything in between. It was a documentary snapshot of motorcycling as it existed in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the country was home to 4 million motorcyclists participating in everything from motocross to drags to land speed record attempts at Bonneville.
“We knew going in that to take on this title, it was like saying we’ve got a new chapter of the Bible,” said Dana Brown, director of “On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter,” opening in theaters nationwide today. “You know there’s gonna be people that will fold their arms and say, ‘How dare you?’”
At least Brown’s dad isn’t one of them. Bruce Brown, who directed and narrated the original film, is executive producer on the sequel, as well as a featured talking head.
Like the original, “The Next Chapter” is a series of vignettes mining classic motorcycling disciplines roaming from dirt and asphalt to sand, ice and salt – only faster and with more evolved technology both in front of and behind the camera. While it highlights the same themes as the original, namely the camaraderie of the sport, the passion and the family involvement, it also throws in entire racing categories that didn’t exist 43 years ago, such as the millions-at-stake MotoGP, the Hare Scramble Enduro through an Austrian iron mine that yields 30 finishers from a field of 500 and electric motorcycles racing the 156 turns and 12.42 miles of Pikes Peak.
In the late ’60s, the biggest races were sponsored by the American Motorcyclist Association, whether they were run on a half-mile dirt track or were miles-long road races at Daytona. Today, motorcycling has splintered into too many new forms to be comprehensively addressed in “The Next Chapter,” so Brown narrowed them based on popularity, cinematic value and surprise factor, starting with Robbie Maddison.
A daredevil in the tradition of Evel Knievel, Maddison catches seemingly endless air as he jumps his motorcycle 96 feet up and off a ramp to land on the Arc de Triomphe at Paris Las Vegas in 2009 and secures the Guinness World Record for a motorcycle jump. In the film, Maddison breaks his own record with a 360-foot flight from an Olympic ski jump that drops 181/2 stories in the process.
Today “the bikes are better, the athletes are better, but at its heart motorcycling is the same,” said Brown, who grew up in Dana Point riding motorcycles from the age of 6 and hanging out with the living legends who starred in his father’s famous film, many of whom make cameos in “The Next Chapter.”
American Grand Prix champs Wayne Rainey and Kenny Roberts, as well as former motocross world champion Roger De Coster, are featured in the new film, as is Lawwill, who, after retiring from racing, went on to create a prosthetic arm that allows amputees to ride motorcycles. Lawwill’s device is even shown in action, worn by a disabled racer on the same dirt track Lawwill once raced.
To this day, the Browns spend Thanksgivings with the Lawwills, said Dana Brown, who plays up the family nature of motorcycling. In his film, X Games superstar Travis Pastrana is shown balancing an ATV on two wheels with his wife and infant along for the ride. The father of Supercross superstar James Stewart brags about taking his son on a motorcycle just two days after he was born.
Highlighting family “helps elevate the film out of, ‘Hey look, we’re doing this crazy fun thing’ to something that’s passed down,” said Brown, who is living proof. Not only did he start motorcycling because of his dad, he is also a surfer and filmmaker who has followed in his father’s footsteps.
After seeing “On Any Sunday” at age 11, Dana Brown started turning his own Super 8 camera to making spy movies and westerns and, as his father had done in the opening sequence to his 1971 documentary, shooting bicycle races. But it wasn’t until his dad asked him to help film the sequel to one of his movies that the younger Brown became a director himself.
Like Bruce Brown, who first made his mark with the 1966 surf film “The Endless Summer,” Dana Brown’s first film of note was the critically acclaimed 2003 surfing documentary “Step Into Liquid.”
Dana Brown had been considering a follow-up to his own surf film when Red Bull Media House approached him about making a sequel to “On Any Sunday” instead. In the works for two years, it is funded by Red Bull, the mark of which is definitely felt with appearances by some of its sponsored athletes as well as the spectacular photography with which Red Bull is associated.
When Bruce Brown filmed “On Any Sunday,” he pioneered the use of telephoto lenses that allowed up-close shots of racers as they smeared mud from their visors and dug themselves out of water-logged motocross pits. He jury-rigged cameras with higher-powered batteries to simulate high-speed equipment that was, at the time, too expensive. Long before the days of GoPro and the democratization of filmmaking, Brown experimented with helmet cameras, enabling him to capture images from the racers’ point of view that had never before been seen.
“The Next Chapter” benefits from modern helicopters and phantom cameras that put viewers in the saddle of a MotoGP bike as it careens around the track at speeds approaching 200 mph – and crashes, tumble weeding its rider across the pavement.
“Certain people are so fond of the original, it’s a little sacrilegious to do this,” Brown said. “I wish it could be judged on its own merits. I’m not trying to replace ‘On Any Sunday’ or make it better. I’m just trying to make something worthy of its name.”