For the last several years, a lot of people have been bagging Clay’s videos for being too long, too serious, too whatever. I can guarantee that all of those player haters have no idea what actually goes into the production of one of Clay’s movies. Yeah, so they have been a little long for a few years but I’ve written that off as being a jaded insider, bored with stories I was there for or already heard. When you set out to cover a mountain bike race season you can easily forget how ridiculously long and drawn out the whole experience can be for the racers, let alone how exhausting and draining that whole season can be for viewers to take in over one sitting. And yeah, First was a little serious in the way it was written and narrated but it had plenty of playful moments too. Clay knew he was no Larry Longo going into the sound booth (coat closet? I’ve done worse Clay!) to record that sound track.

Clay Porter, the shirtless wonder behind The Tipping Point.

Clay Porter, the shirtless wonder behind The Tipping Point.

So what of the past? Clay has the internet; he can hear the murmurs and occasional harping cries of the haters. He had his work cut out for him this year to really deliver on those claims of this one being “way different, much more documentary in format, more focused on specific content, etc” and he did exactly what he said he was going to do.

If you compare Clay to the racers that he covers, the Spectacles and the ‘opsises were his amateur stint. He moved up to World Cup level with Between the Tape as his rookie year. He got a little more refined with First and stepped onto the podium with a few sections, most notably the Athertons’ night shooting section. So he’s got a couple years under his belt at this highest level. The Tipping Point is Clay’s breakout season that I think will lead to him being on top of the game for many years to come. His filmmaking has matured like many of the comfortable World Cup racers in the video. He is more consistent in his shots and clip selection, more focused on content, and has finally taken the necessary steps to make a real documentary.

Exclusive Aaron Gwin edit from The Tipping Point for Littermag.com

Clay has got the jib shots and cable cam dialed for this project. His race coverage is more consistent than ever, seemingly always finding the right place to be to get the shots that make the story work. He has moved on from recycling banger shots and repeating spots having learned about the diminishing returns on those shots while trimming much of the fat from the whole video in the process. It is clear that Clay is willing to kill his babies by leaving a shot on the virtual cutting room floor that doesn’t work, no matter how awesome the action is. He’s also trimmed the fat in the construction of the documentary format. There is no superfluous voice over like in his recent works. The viewer is given credit for knowing what they are looking at while enough attention is given to shot order and supplemental titles to carry along any viewer not already intimately familiar with the events of the season.  The story of the season is told through the key players and without gratuitous helpings of shiny action over cheese ball music that leaves most action sports videos a few boobs shy of a tawdry, low budget porn flick.

Viewers glued to the screen at the Denver premiere of The Tipping Point. Matti Lehikoinen's section is a moving one.

Viewers glued to the screen at the Denver premiere of The Tipping Point. Matti Lehikoinen's section is a moving one.

The Tipping Point is still long at about 80 minutes but the narrative structure of the most tightly contested World Cup season makes the time flow by smoothly. Only key players and stories from the season are covered in the movie bringing a greater significance to everything that makes it on screen. The soundtrack of any bike video is going to draw some heat from some curmudgeons and while I may not have picked the same soundtrack, I didn’t find any of it to detract from the movie. The songs were at worst easily ignorable and at best did their job of supporting the mood and general atmosphere of the video clips. Clay employs a standard documentary convention of repeating audio cues through out the movie for emphasis on key moments, and while some people might not like the xylophone that gets used, it does work thematically.

Above any improvements over prior projects, Clay is finally able to crack the protective social armor of the top racers in the world. He has spent enough time in their environment to know how they tick, what questions to ask, and how to get some emotional appeal out of them without pissing them off with what he says. Seeing Sam Hill get choked up about World Champs and calling out Greg Minnaar on his dry spell were particular treats. These guys, while freakishly fast on the bike, are still human and getting to see that side of them in the video was more impressive and fresh to me than pretty much any of the action.

Click to Purchase The Tipping Point

Click to Purchase The Tipping Point

So what didn’t I like? The packaging was something I have been looking forward to since the Sea Otter premier. The booklet was full of great photos, especially the portraits from the pits. But I wanted more. This is nit-picky, I know. But I really did want a thicker booklet, maybe even full-grown book status. It really supplements the story in the video nicely and I wish there was more to it. But these are tough times; we are in a recession and all. At least the packaging is made of recycled material. I also was hoping for more dvd bonus material- like any. The trailer is included which is nice but I know Clay has got to be sitting on gobs of left over clips. I would love to see no-music, rough edit sequences of left over clips from the guys in eighth through twentieth place. The real die-hard fans would have loved to see that kind of nearly raw footage of familiar racers that just happened to not be key players of the 2008 season. I am itching for left over interview clips. The fumbled words, the jokes, and the little insights that would have been interesting to hear but were left out due to a lack of a home in the actual video would have been really nice to see in the extras. I would love to hear what else Barel had to say. And come on, who wouldn’t want to see the rest of what Palmer had to say for that sit down session?

Overall, this is not only Clay’s best work but it is by far the most accessible and honest portrayal of downhill racing that has been released by anyone to date. Clay has really stepped up his game, found his style, and told a good story. This video is a must own for any racer’s library.

www.thetippingpointfilm.com

Purchase The Tipping Point from The Fix Bikes

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