TBS, SUN. AUG. 25, 9 P.M.
Filmed in various C.S. locations by Turner Original Prods. and Deep River Prods. Executive producer, Cis Wilson; executive producer for Turner Original Prods., Pat Mitchell; senior producer for TOP, Vivian Schiller; producer, Mel Lawrence; director, Victoria Samuels; camera, Geoff Dills; additional photography, Rich White, Cathy Feister, Dennis Dougherty; editor, Allyson C. Johnson: sound, Feister, 60 MIN.
With: Gail DeMarco, Jamie Elvidge, Gevin Fax, Chris Sommer-Simmons.
TBS’ “TOPX” series offers a fresh take on the outlaw spirit in “Biker Women,” docu focusing on a road trip by four motorcyclists who forge deep friendships over nearly 3,000 miles. Stereotype-busting pic, while uneven, is intriguing and provocative.
Exuberant intro is a compendium of women’s insights, quips and rhapsodics about the sensuous experience of riding. One woman wryly notes that it’s “safer than a fourth marriage.”
Docu zeros in on four California women who get to know one another while traveling to and from Sturgis, S.D., for the world’s largest biker gathering, an annual event since 1938. The rally is a heady brew of races, partying and exhibitionism under the Great Plains sun. But pic’s central quartet have come to Sturgis not merely to revel but to work: Among them are two journalists (Cris Sommer-Simmons, cofounder-founder of Harley Women magazine; and Jamic Elvidge, who specializes in test-riding bikes), a singer-songwriter (Gevin Fax) and a photographer (Gail DcMarco).
Combining footage of the women’s trip and post-travel interviews, director Victoria Samuels pieces together a picture of self-sufficiency and exhilaration on the road — a refreshing, and no doubt more representative, alternative to the popular image of women on bikes as backseat ornaments. The road trip is an interesting angle on a world most of us see only, literally, in passing. As Jamie says, “It’s one thing to bond with people, but it’s another thing to ride with people.”
Yet Samuels relies too much on rather ordinary scenes of confabs by the campfire or at roadside stops, conversations that have considerably more significance for their participants than for the viewer. However articulate and funny these women are, pic would have been better served by less attention to their “sharing” sessions and more to the gritty realities of the trip.
Nonetheless, four strong, unconventional personalities emerge, and they wear the mantle of unorthodoxy well; their walk past the raised eyebrows in a small-town diner is a lesson in self-possession. (Closet we get to a sentimental notion here is when Cris’ husband, musician Patrick Simmons of the Doobie Brothers, recounts their first meeting in Sturgis.)
All four women have been through serious biking accidents, and they’re well aware of the dangers. In an illuminating passage, we see Cris and Jamie each taking her young daughter for a spin: The women’s intermingled joy and anxiety are evident. “What goes around comes around,” Cris observes with pride and resignation.
D.p. Geoff Dills makes good use of a camera bike, and his crisp work captures the changing light of Western landscapes as seen from the great American highway. Softrock soundtrack is a bit anemic, given dynamism of pic’s subjects, and there’s a disjointedness throughout that sometimes muddles chronology. But “Biker Women” is mainly a spirited look at four of the most engaging road warriors we’re likely to encounter.