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Life Cycles: The Last Great Mountain Bike Film

By Shawn Spomer
It's 2011 and times have changed significantly in the last 10 years when thinking about movies and videos. Technology is faster and visual media is more accessible than it has ever been. Any one of us can watch 200 mountain bike videos in a day if we really wanted to. Amidst this ever-increasing maelstrom of diluted and mostly-forgettable online visuals, along comes Life Cycles, leaving a lasting impression on our community like an old photo of Tomac using drop bars...

Birth
Life Cycles: The Last Great Mountain Bike Film    Before the advent of easy consumer DSLR video and the rage of shallow depth of field, Derek Frankoski and Ryan Gibb began work on Life Cycles. Frankowski and Gibb had a plan that was visually ahead of its time in the mountain biking world. And based on some responses I've heard about the film, Life Cycles may still be ahead of its time. The pair of artists used their photographic and film-making experience, coupled with cutting-edge digital equipment to create their perfect vision. It only took them three years.

Growing Pains
    I saw Life Cycles for the first time at Interbike, on the big screen, around a lot of people, during a busy week. I was stunned the first time I watched the movie, but admittedly, I felt a little let down. I had been waiting for 2 years to see this movie. I had checked the Life Cycles blog often, had seen the occasional leaked photos and videos from shoots and had even pestered riders like Cam McCaul and Thomas Vanderham to describe to their sections to me. Had I built Life Cycles up to be bigger than it could possibly ever be?
     Interbike rolled along and I didn't think much about the movie. The wheat field segment with McCaul and Semenuk would run through my brain and give me a huge smile, but other than that, I had consumed Life Cycles like an average web video. That's no way to live.

Maturity
     Thanks to modern technology, I was given Life Cycles via iTunes. I haven't had a television for a while, so getting a DVD wasn't a priority since I had already seen the film. I added the movie to my queue, but wasn't in a hurry to re-watch it. Finally, a few evenings later, I crawled into bed and pressed play. I ended up watching Life Cycles twice that night. I realized my experience at the premiere was tainted and that this was a timeless piece of work. I said to myself, outloud, after the first time watching it that night, "this is the perfect movie about mountain bikes."

Simplicity is never Simple
     The general idea of Life Cycles is pretty simple: A bike is born (constructed), it lives (is ridden) and it dies (sorry about that slam at the end Aggy. Ouch!). The general visual presentation of Life Cycles is actually pretty simple, too...tell the story. Presenting a story and creating that presentation are two different animals, however, and the beast of the two is often overlooked, especially when a presentation is so complete, clean and subliminally stunning.
Life Cycles: The Last Great Mountain Bike Film     Having followed the production blog, my mind was triggered by a shot near the beginning of the movie, that almost missed my attention. As the viewer, you're looking down from a tall city building at a classic orange truck admist traffic. The shot lasts 4 seconds and many viewers may not even notice the orange truck, as it is not the obvious focal point in the shot. The Life Cycles crew did not have a truck lined up before going to Vancouver for the shoot and they even asked for help locating a truck on their blog. Eventually they found the truck they wanted to use on the side of the road and were able to get a hold of it for the shoot. They noted the stoke in their blog about how great life can be when things just work out.
     Now back to that shot from the building...someone in the Life Cycles crew knew a window washer in Vancouver. They arranged to shoot the truck driving down a Vancouver street from high above using the window washer's equipment. This  logistically-complicated, but simple-looking shot lasts 4 seconds...4 seconds for a shot that may have taken an entire day to create and is easily dismissed by most viewers waiting for some action. Frankowski and Gibb had a vision and took the time to see the vision completely through. I'm only 4:36 into the movie and the commitment to this vision of the film is giving me chills. Throughout the entire film their commitment resonates through season-long timelapses and a consistency that is bullet-proof.

Sounds
     There is narration in Life Cycles. An anonymous, gravelly voice pondering a grandfather's statements of life, death, beginning, end, ebb and flow. I love the narration, which is written by Mitchell Scott. I listened intently to the narration the 2nd and 3rd time I watched Life Cycles. The words are simple but profound. They pertain to the experience of the movie and the spirit of mountain biking in every way. When I quickly consumed the movie at Interbike, I didn't react to the narration like I do now. It did not soak in and I reacted with rolling eyes at points. Taking time to digest the film, I know now that without narration, exactly the way it is, the movie would not be complete.
     The music is mated perfectly to its footage. The highs of the riding match the highs of the song, the lows of a dead bike match the rusted out, broken parts. Etherial nature visuals have quietly-deafening tones and pulses accompanying them. The ambient accents make you feel like you're on the trail, getting sprayed with mud as a rider comes flying by. Life Cycles does not rely solely on imagery to create an experience, they leave no berm unslashed or puddle unsplashed through the audio, too.

Sights
     Frankowski and Gibb may have done their job too well with the techniques, angles and patience in making this film. Why would I say that? Because I've heard responses to the film that say, "there wasn't enough riding," or "what's with all the arty shots?" If you responded to Life Cycles this way, I think you need to watch the film again, without distraction.
     There is not one shot in the movie that shouldn't be there. Every shot is calculated and used with intent. Every riding clip in the film is magical with so much detail and clarity that, as a viewer, you could study each riding clip a for a lifetime and notice something new every time. The techniques like cable cams, dolly shots and jib arms are all used with intent to create something visually specific. They're not showing off their equipment or skills, they showing the perfect angle to make mountain biking look as spectacular as it really can be.
Shots like these make the movie for me. They're subtle, but full of information and experiences only a mountain biker could understand. This trail builder section has grown to be my favorite of the film.
     The focus of Life Cycle's is not rider-based, it's riding-based. Sure, I knew that McCaul and Semenuk were blasting through wheat fields or Agassiz was chucking himself off Kamloops cliffs, but the movie does not tell who is riding. Because of this Life Cycles pulled me in as the rider. I am the rider on the screen, hauling ass through leaf-covered singletrack. Every riding sequence makes me want to stop the movie and go get on my bike.
     As for the "arty" or "hippie" stuff, next time you're on a ride, take out your earbuds, stop for second and take a look around. Our mountain bikes can ride on anything, at anytime and in any place. Life Cycles is a pure reflection of this capability and the non-riding visuals communicate this in an impactful way.

The Last Great Mountain Bike Film
     Growing up, before instant-access media, I had only a few VHS tapes of mountain biking movies. I wore those tapes out, each shot etched in my mind, memorable still. Now, I am jaded by the over-saturation of videos available at the click of a mouse. I can barely sit through an entire web video these days and if I do make it through a video, it's rare that I'll remember anything about the video a week later.
     In this new era of media, it is hard to believe that there will ever be another mountain bike movie like Life Cycles. It was created and released at just the right time. Will anyone ever embark on a  3 year journey to develop and produce a movie of this caliber about mountain bikes again? Would any companies ever support an endeavor like that again? I doubt it. In the face of that potentially depressing statement, however, Life Cycles will stand timeless as the last great movie for anyone who has thrown a leg over a mountain bike. If it's possible to wear out an iTunes video file from over-use, I'll probably wear out Life Cycles.

Download Life Cycles on iTunes
or purchase the DVD or Blu-Ray through VAS.

If you even think about stealing this movie via torrent or some other way, you should probably leave Vital MTB and never come back.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF LIFECYCLES? Let us know in the comments.
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