Some things are just better outdoors. Food, for one: why else would so many otherwise sane people choose to endure traffic fumes and jostling pedestrians while dining at sidewalk tables outside restaurants? Alcohol also gains something special from alfresco consumption (although it seems that our local abstinence authorities would prefer that we kept our beer drinking hidden away indoors). Even culture benefits from a little extra space now and then, as pale, sun-deprived performers of all kinds are dragged blinking and confused to play at outdoor festivals across the land. But in our age of 3D movie megaplexes and surround-sound high-definition nuclear-powered plasma screens at home, are we in danger of forgetting the simple joys of seeing a movie beneath a blanket of stars?
Thankfully, help is at hand and fresh-air filmgoing seems to be undergoing a mini revival in San Francisco. Two annual programs (Dolores Park Movie Night and Film Night in the Park) have already blazed a trail, and now these established screeners are being joined by an unlikely new champion of non-movie-theater big-screen movies: the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Not content with harrassing city officials into building a labyrinth of bike lanes around town that will eventually form a picture of Greg LeMond's face visible only from space, the SFBC has also been busy organizing a series of free Bike-in Movie Nights in a SOMA hotel parking lot.
Sure, the pedal pushers' most recent cinematic offerings -- cult BMX movie Rad and mountainbike documentary Klunkerz -- were always going to have limited appeal outside the organization's membership of enthusiasts, but the next screening promises to change that. Animated French flick Les Triplettes de Belleville isn't just a great cycling movie, but very likely the greatest cycling movie of all time (even if Kevin Costner's mustache and Nicole Kidman's perm may disagree). It depicts all the excitement and intrigue of the legendary Tour de France through a hallucinatory mixture of exaggerated perspective, mafia kidnappings, and old-timey song-and-dance numbers.
It's also a wonderful movie for an outdoor screening. Some may worry about struggling to watch a foreign language film being projected onto the side of a building (after all, those subtitles aren't easy to read at the best of times), but handily Belleville has virtually no dialogue. The narrative is driven by rich, flowing visuals and music; in fact, with its retro style and washed-out color palate, it's not hard to imagine it as an old-fashioned silent movie. Lengthy Tarantino-esque monologues aside, however, it is a movie that has everything: good guys, bad guys, French guys, heroic grannies, and even a sleuthing pooch called Bruno.
My only reservation about the whole event is that it is being co-hosted by a group calling itself San Francisco Tweed. Very little is known about this shady organization other than its members' strange predilection for wearing scratchy woolens while cycling, but that alone marks them out as a bunch of depraved deviants. Hopefully the large supporting cast of street-food vendors also promising to make an appearance at the screening will help keep everyone filled up with warming outdoor food, reducing the probability of having to cuddle up to a rough-coated stranger for warmth.
Les Triplettes des Belleville will be shown in the parking lot across from the Good Hotel, 112 Seventh Street, San Francisco at 8pm on September 16, 2009. Admission is free, and bike parking will be provided. For more information, visit sfbike.org.