i have had my moments of attempting to be the steven spielberg of the southern hebrides, links to which exists somewhere further down this page. granted, i do not or did not have access to quite state of the art movie recording equipment, though i cannot deny that the editing software was pretty darned fine. however, i tend to think my strengths lie in the written word and is not necessarily embedded in the art of the moving image; it's unlikely that any of thewashingmachinepost videos, despite being heavily influenced by folks i know who have made far better cycle-related offerings. i fear i may only have succeeded in demonstrating my ineptitude with the medium.
despite knowledge of the above, what may have rescued these silver screenings from the depths of despondency would undoubtedly have been a sturdy narrative. unfortunately, and i write without specifically reviewing their content, i think that may have been a specific aspect missing in action, suspected to have never been there in the first place. for faced with a bicycle or velocipedinal accessory and eager to augment my wordy reviews and demonstrating just how au fait i am with modern social media trends, i simply made a movie. these were often started and subsequently finished without so much as an inkling as to a beginning, middle and end.
of course, you already knew this.
yet others not only march where i should have feared to tread, but have the very great fortune to produce an end result that is jaw-droppingly marvellous, intriguing, informative and downright emotional. there's no way any of those adjectives could ever be applied to my own efforts. even the good ones.
the story behind tom allen's janapar, which in the interests of trying ever so hard not to spoil for those yet to view it, i'm probably going to be somewhat sparsely acute in my meanderings, is not particularly revelationary. at least not at the start. i know personally of several folks who have extricated themselves from the humdrum of the day to day and headed off into the wide blue yonder on a bicycle. the virtual bookshelves of amazon are filled to over-brimming with their tales and testaments, and i doubt there are many of us who have not, at one time or other, though to do likewise.
at one time, filming such escapades would have been, if not impossible, certainly somewhat onerous. while trying to escape from real life, it would have been less than innocuous to have a trailer full of super-eight film in tow. but as we are constantly being told, the world is a smaller place these days, as are many of the items that constitute that world. like digital video cameras, for instance. but to be honest, that would simply move the overblown to the over-filmed. heading off for pastures unknown by bicycle may well be our own idea of adventure and entertainment, but it's possibly not one shared by everyone.
therefore, leaving a comfortable living in middle england to ride who knows where, in the company of your two best mates would barely scrape past a producer as the sort of narrative that would not only fill a cinema, but keep an audience there long enough to buy cornettos at the intermission. the fact that tom allen and colleagues had pretty much no idea of what they were letting themselves in for, nor in possession of a specific route or maps that might assist, means we're probably still in the land of 'so what'.
but perhaps not unsurprisingly, pretty much nothing went to plan, had there even been one in the first place. suffice to say that it really wasn't too long before tom found himself as a solo cyclist, one accomplice heading homewards to rejoin his girlfriend before too long, leaving the other two to grow further and further apart before finally achieving ultimate separation. so far, so ho-hum. looking at the counter at the foot of apple's quicktime player, and realising there's a substantial amount of footage yet to be seen from this point on, i had high hopes of something extravagantly interesting happening, though i admit i was a far cry form tedium at this point.
this is not, however, to discount allen's quirky but mesmerising filming. bear in mind that the guy is riding alone, often giving the impression of being only loosely in touch with his destiny. as he points out several times during janapar, not only is he still without a map of whichever country he is travelling, but no real notion of where he'd be heading if he had. yet he has the presence of mind to set up some clever camera viewpoints that often had me wondering whether a second cameraman had been recruited. and though i attest to to the creativity of camera positioning, none of what is seen on screen looks forced, pretentious or unnatural. i seriously doubt allen had the notion or ability to be an actor in any case.
riding through eastern european countries, turkey, united arab emirates and many almost deserted parts of countries surrounding iraq, saudi arabia and afghanistan, the vistas are often breathtaking, as is the overwhelming sense of welcome and generosity expressed by many of the peoples met along the way. as a documentary it could almost wash its face. but janapar is very much more than simply a documentary filmed from the saddle of a rather chunky mountain bike. in fact, to be honest, that there are any bicycles in the movie at all is almost completely incidental, yet central to the janapar's raison d'etre.
what, or rather who, makes this a film endlessly endearing is tenny, an attractive young iranian girl living in armenia while studying design. and i all but guarantee that the rest of your family will join you in these terms of endearment, including the partner/spouse who would rather clean the drains with a broken spoke than watch wheels and pedals go round in far off countries beset with endless miles of sand. armenia, in fact, provided the film with it's name, janapar being their word for journey.
this is a love story, pure and simple, but one set against the most of incredible of backgrounds and filmed in a less than orthodox manner. yet this compelling story enjoys a most professional presentation and a highly accomplished and sympathetic soundtrack (original score by composer vincent watts). janapar won't teach you anything about bicycles that you didn't already know, apart from, in this case, how they bring together two seemingly disparate individuals from completely different backgrounds.
buy it, watch it, love it.
tom allen's janapar movie is available to stream, download or buy on dvd from janapar.com and will be available via itunes at the end of this month. if movies are not your thing, you could always buy the book instead.
thursday 16 january 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................