presents a feature-length documentary on DVD by MARTIN SCHLIESSMANN and JOHN BRUNE
Friday, November 19, 2010
Friday Film: 'Why Sturgis?'
Say the name Sturgis, and most people think of one thing: The weeklong annual motorcycle rally that draws thousands to the biggest biker party in the world.
But those who have been there know there is a lot more to Sturgis than drinking, dancing and ogling biker babes. The tiny town of Sturgis, South Dakota, named for Civil War cavalryman Samuel Davis Sturgis, is set in some of the most naturally beautiful land in the United States, with a rich history dating from the old west.
The sweet, sentimental documentary "Why Sturgis?" by Martin Schliessman and John Brune is an affectionate and personable look at the life and times of a town that's a lot more than a place for bikers to meet up once a year. Sure, they show the rally in all its glory, but the history and natural attractions of the area also get their due.
The filmmakers describe how a local motorcycle club, the Jackpine Gypsies, started the rally 71 years ago with events capped by the hill climbing contests and the Jackpine Gypsies Championship Half-Mile Race. They include here possibly the last interview of the late Pearl Hoel, "First Lady of the Sturgis Rally" -- widow of one of the original Jackpine Gypsies, Pappy Hoel, co-founder of the Sturgis Rally & Black Hills Classic. Interviewed in 2001, she describes how she was asked to speak about the nature of women who attend the rally.
"I'm the antique from 1938," she says with no hint of irony.
Like awestruck tourists, the filmmakers visit the sites that define the Black Hills area -- Mount Rushmore, Bear Butte, Fort Meade and the Crazy Horse Memorial -- as well as the tourist-trappish Wall Drug store and places made famous by the rumble of motorcycles in August.
They talk to historians, bikers and tourists, with a healthy emphasis on the national significance of the area in our development as a nation -- the discovery of gold, western settlement, establishment of an Army outpost and the 1857 Sioux Council to ensure the safety of the land that was sacred to the American Natives.
If you enjoy history, you'll love this movie. Not just military history, but motorcycle history, as well.
"The motorcycle rally is in fact an outgrowth of what was going on at here the post," historian Charles Rambow says in the film. Following military maneuvers and an elaborate ceremony, "At Fort Robinson in 1938, half of the (cavalry) troops turn over their horses. When that half of the 4th Cav get back to the post, their horses have been replaced by Indian motorcycles and Harley-Davidson motorcycles."
Pearl describes what it was like for riders in the early days of the rallies.
"In early days, they had only a cloth helmet," Pearl says. "Well, anybody would know that a cloth helmet wouldn't help you any if you had a motorcycle accident. Well, then came the cap, and if you'll notice in some of the pictures in my album, you'll see that everybody had just a cap on. And later on, everybody had helmets, which I think was a smart thing.
"As far as wearing a helmet is concerned, I don't like to wear a helmet for the simple reason that I can't hear as well as I want to."
There's also that element of putting the myth of the "Bad Biker" to rest.
"Why Sturgis?" is highly recommended. I give it: Five Revs out of Five.
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