Friday, October 17, 2014

'Indian Summer' motorcycle documentary now on DVD

The motorcycle documentary "Indian Summer" is a pleasure to watch.
The Royal Enfield content is slim: limited to one Big Head hillclimber ridden by young Bruce Gagne, who explains how American Indian motorcycles were, briefly, built in Redditch, England by Royal Enfield.

But this doesn't lessen the appeal of "Indian Summer," a 1994 documentary by Timothy Cataldo. This precious film has just become available as a DVD on ($14.99).

In this film it's always fall, the leaves are always changing, the setting sun always glows softly. The men are young and brave and the women are young and slim. Motorcycles climb hills, spin around and crash through the walls of death. But mostly they just clatter along country roads. And it's all good.

"Indian Summer" is a gently paced documentary about American Indian motorcycles (so named  not to capitalize on native Americans but because these were the pioneer American motorcycles).

It's a documentary of interviews with experts on the American Indian motorcycles, with flickering background footage of Indians in action.

Cataldo could teach Ken Burns something. Instead of a droning narrator we have individuals (I stopped counting at 20 separate interviews) who love the old Indians, each standing next to one motorcycle telling what he knows:

Why the Indian Four was important. Why the 101 Scout remains the most revered American motorcycle. What it was like to get a call from Steve McQueen and not know who he was, except that he loved motorcycles.

It's the loving "they never should have gone out of business" attitude toward Indian motorcycles that comes through every time.

"Indian always had the heart of the American rider," one subject notes. Our movie maker knows it to be true.

Cataldo, who in 1994 was young and green and using the first footage he shot when he got a movie camera, makes a great documentary not because he cares so much about Indian motorcycles as because he clearly cares so much about his subjects.

They're shown in their shops and garages, maybe with crooked teeth and stubble, but with emotion in their voices that identifies them as the shining knights who rode these machines in their days of glory.

Back when the average motor car did 35 mph max on a good road, and less on a bad road — of which there were many — motorcycles could could maneuver around pot holes; you could adjust the sidecar to keep it out of the horse cart ruts.

But this is not just a ride down memory lane. There's hard information here too. The triumphs and failures of the critical du Pont years are described by du Pont descendants themselves!

Some of those interviewed in 1994 are no longer with us. This documentary is a priceless artifact. Full disclosure: I got my original copy for free, a copy from the Gagnes. It's a favorite of mine.

"Indian is mostly just a feeling," Cataldo concludes.

What a feeling.

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