the candler blog

Deadcenter X Review: The Birth of Big Air

Deadcenter 2010, Film Festivals, Reviews

The Birth of Big Air StillAlthough the dominance of ESPN over the concept of this documentary is so powerful, Jackass director Jeff Tremaine and editor Seth Casriel found ways to both defy and utilize the network’s clean format and structure while also presenting some incredible historical footage that places Matt Hoffman’s BMX footage into new light, and perhaps brings us the closest to the mortality of Hoffman’s unique biking style.

One of the most unique kinds of video work is hardcore bike and skate videos, one of my favorite genre of filmmaking. Such works impart a true love of a craft (in this case, biking) and often become overlooked by those who don’t share the same interest, nor know exactly at what it is they’re looking when such footage is presented to them without context. Yet, there is little that rivals such work in its ability to capture the harsh truths and intense passion of any particular, and fleeting, “moment”. While Tremaine and Casriel are able to incorporate such amazing footage, it is the way in which they are able to craft the reasons for such footage’s appeal that makes this documentary shine beyond a possibly rigid talking-head format.

Matt Hoffman, the BMX mad-man/sports star upon who’s career story the documentary focuses, is someone who defines the documentary’s structure in his proclamation that with any successful highs comes the possibilities of a hard landing. As soon as we’re introduced to this philosophy, we find some amazing trick jumps through some very incredibly captured documentation. The stunts become entrancing, and the ability to predict the physical outcome becomes tantamount in these moments. Often when shots are about to display a landing we cut to another successful jump. The implicit feeling of achievement, success, and unhindered possibilities are at the forefront of the documentary’s first third. Only once we feel a sense of Hoffman’s invincibility are we introduced to the falls that come with these jumps, and with each clip we find more and more footage depicts a hand land or crash. While this footage seems more of the harsh reality of physics, it is also an expected element of any great bike video. The successful ramp slides and jumps are contrasted with the real moments of impending mortality, suddenly it’s clear what Hoffman is attempting to escape –not necessarily his own historical records, nor even the limits of his own sport: it is feeling of freedom from the pain and suffrage that comes in a moment after the fall.

This incredible footage also becomes the expected truth through Hoffman’s actual practice footage, footage that was before publicly unseen. This footage brings forth an intimacy not only with Hoffman’s personal practice routine, but with the real possibility of pain in a crash or fall. With the clean and smooth footage of ESPN coverage, or a news crew documentation, comes the safety of a sport’s completion. There’s always the possibility of another take or immediate medical assistance at an event at which participants have spent months practicing. Stripped of these safeties, these practice videos get us so close to the moments of possible failure that Hoffman’s mortality becomes our own –will he make the jump when he’s still yet figuring out the trick? Such incredible moments provide for a real connection that goes beyond ESPN historical footage. These moments are such a treasure for such a notable figure.

As well as his practice footage, we are given a moment-by-moment account surrounding one of Hoffman’s most painful landings that results in extreme physical aftershock from an attempt to jump a thirty-foot ramp before television crews in the early 2000s. The strict ESPN structure and format are suddenly broken down in a moment so clearly captured that all talking heads are forgotten, and all we are left with are the real fears of Hoffman’s life, perhaps the closest we’ll possibly come to grasping the real fears that occur within the head of a biker after the height of a world record jump.

Tremaine has crafted together many great interviews, but what contrasts these clean, and almost overly sterile moments, are some amazingly personal footage and moments that define not only the highs of a careers, but the pains that comes with these humanizing lows.