December 19, 2014 -- This documentary about illegal dirt bike riders in Baltimore shows off some impressive riding skills along with the tragic waste of human potential.
They call these dirt bike riders “12 O'Clock Boys” because they ride their dirt bikes and four-wheel ATV's on the back wheels (“wheelies”) a lot. The front wheels are so far off the ground the front end of the bikes are almost straight up in the air at the 12 O'Clock position (more often it is 10 to 11 O'Clock position). This is easy enough to do for a short distance, but these daring riders seem to go on for miles on just the back wheels, weaving back and forth through traffic this way.
This has got to be hard to do. The front wheels are how most people steer a vehicle. To steer with the front wheels in the air means you have to do it all with balance, at the same time you are balancing the bike front to back, that is, to keep it from tipping forward, or backward, which would likely result in injury.
I can see how this would fascinate some kids. One such fascinated kid is Pug, a 13-year-old kid followed over a three year period, 2010 to 2013 as he attempts to acquire a good dirt bike, learn to ride, and to join a dirt bike gang. Pug is fascinated by these wild dirt-bikers and he wants to join them in the worst way. Pug talks about the drugs, the gangs, the crime and the poverty in his neighborhood. The 12 O'Clock Boys seems to represent a way out of this.
When Pug's older brother, Tibba, dies after an asthma attack, his distraught mother, Coco, packs up the family and moves to another part of town, but Pug still is determined to join the illegal bike riders. The path to this goal is straightforward. It starts with bicycles, where kids imitate the wheelies they see the dirt bikers doing. Pug graduates to a four-wheel ATV, then to a dirt bike.
The dirt bikers ride motorcycles and ATVs that are not licensed for roads or streets. Their antics endanger themselves as well as motorists and pedestrians. After a series of disastrous chases, police institute a policy of not chasing the bikers as a safety measure. Instead, they use helicopters to track the bikers back to their homes. It is a cat and mouse game. Since the vehicles are not licensed, they, and their riders, are hard to identify and track.
Even though police sometimes catch and arrest the bikers, it appears they are free to do as they please most of the time. This apparent freedom, combined with the skill, speed and excitement, is part of the romance that draws Pug and other kids into the biker life. It is like the wild west. Freedom, lawlessness, defiance of the police and their hated race profiling tactics. The bikers in the film all appear to be black.
But Pug is also a kid who falls through the gaping cracks in the education system. He is not going to school much, if at all, according to what his mother says in the film. Coco talks about turning him over to the police, but she also seems to be enabling his dream of becoming an illegal street biker, by buying him biking equipment. This is Pug's dream, and a dream is a powerful thing.
I had a lot of trouble following the dialog in this film. Because of all the slang and the thick accents, I definitely needed subtitles to follow a lot of what was being said, so I missed a lot of what was going on. I picked up what I could through images and facial expressions and what dialog I could understand. The cinematography by Lofty Nathan (who also directed this film) is impressive. The ultra-high speed camera work by the Phantom Ultra HD High Speed Unit, under the direction of Erick Blair, produced some impressive slow-motion images of the street bikes in action.
This is a film that provides a window into this particular aspect of life on the streets of Baltimore. It's exciting, but also a tragic waste of human potential. Under different circumstances, the kids in this film could have a lot more choices for different directions in their lives. This film rates a C+.
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