3404 kilometres-21 stages-21 stories
in 1965, coca cola were keen to sponsor an animated christmas special, resulting in a co-operative effort between animator bill melendez and creator of the peanuts strip cartoon, charles m schultz. shultz, often known by his nickname sparky, drew the initial storyboard which was then brought to life by melendez and accompanied with a soundtrack composed by jazz pianist, vince guaraldi. the end result has become an american christmas tv staple since '65, originally on cbs before abc took up the cudgels and carried on the tradition from 2001.
coca cola's budget was a heck of a lot less than would be the case today, so effectively the whole thing was done on a shoestring. the animation is a bit rough and ready and, as eric morecambe would have said "you can see the joins." however, it's all the more endearing in the light of its foibles and less than hi-fi audio track, winning both emmy and peabody awards and resulting in a highly popular guaraldi soundtrack that has sold well on its own. abc are inclined to show a charlie brown christmas at least twice during each festive season; it's become as much a part of an american christmas as snowmen, santa claus and tinsel. though melendez often fancied bringing it up to date in the intervening years, schulz effectively vetoed the idea.
charles shultz died in 2000, mere months after drawing the final peanuts cartoon strip.
the rouleur photo annual is another christmas staple that has remained more or less true to its original format since being first published in 2007. yes, the size and shape has occasionally altered as the years have passed by, but each subsequent edition has built upon the success of the previous year's issue. though we knew roughly what was heading our way each october/november, it was preceded by an atmosphere of anticipation as to the nature of the imagery and the erudite words that would accompany the glorious pictures. as creatures of habit, we were pretty much accustomed to adding more of the same to our bookshelves.
and then along comes 2013, augmented by this introduction by rouleur deputy ed ian cleverly: "Dear lovely Rouleur photography-type people. We're shaking things up a bit for the next annual. Time for a change. It is going to be Tour de France only."
change is scary, both for the reader and probably the rouleur editorial team as well. with this year having seen the 100th edition of the tour de france, our velocipedinal senses have been battered from each and every direction via all forms of media. just as the fascination begins to die down and a majority looked forward to the unveiling of next year's three weeks in july beginning in yorkshire, rouleur in co-operation with bloomsbury, released this very large book shamelessly emblazoned with sunflowers and the legend 'rouleur centenary tour de france'. change is one thing, but to do so before withdrawal symptoms have set in seems tantamount to force-feeding.
however, all that is immediately forgotten and cast aside even if you make it only as far as the opening pages. to witness oliver unverzart's almost inscrutable multiple exposure podium photos that sandwich the entire edifice is to enter a very welcome twilight zone. if pink floyd were a solo photographer, these are the images (t)he(y) would produce.
throughout the book's 21 stages, photographers have been paired with writers or, as in the case of the inestimable (and fine drummer) geoff waugh, words and images are a solo effort. the images are beautifully and clearly printed on heavy art paper; the reproduction is impeccable and the book's modern design is both subtle and sympathetic. having mentioned mr waugh, it would be irreverent not to list the volume's other contributors: sebastian & simon schels with richard williams; timm kolln with oliver nilsson-julien; robert wyatt (not that robert wyatt) with ian cleverly; taz darling with guy andrews; paolo ciaberta with andy mcgrath and finally the stunningly original and eccentric duo, jakob kristian sorensen and morten okbo.
lest anyone doubt the veracity of that last aspersion, might i quote from a chapter entitled 'the right thing' concerning stage 19.
The night before the writer goes to work he is standing with a former champion sprinter at a nightclub and a second ago the former champion kindly declined a hit from the writer's bottle of many things because the former champion sprinter likes a cold beer and right in front of the former champion sprinter and the writer seven adorable young women are dancing to the house system while most and not some of the women have their eye on the former champion sprinter...
this first sentence, bereft of any punctuation, continues for another nine lines of typesetting. think yourselves lucky i only miss out the capital letters.
however, i think it makes my point and makes it very forcefully. any other publication would have sub edited that seemingly endless sentence into several smaller sentences and doubtless added punctuation in the process. no, it has nothing to do with cycling or the tour, but doesn't it fill you with pride and a sense of recklessness that words about cycling can still be this avant garde? just because we shave our legs and oil our chains doesn't mean we've become conventional.
while the regular and more predictable cycling press would regale us with the minutiae of each of the tour's 21 stages, this is literature that exists on a different plane. ian cleverly's 'road to nowhere' can be summed up by the quote "Never attempt a stage without press accreditation. Never!" yes, he pays tribute to the win by marcel kittel (stage ten), but only as an aside to the day's trials and tribulations. this is both simultaneously edifying and comforting.
for those less concerned with the written word - after all, this is supposed to be a photography annual - the imagery does not fail to impress. some are entirely inexplicable and all the better for it; observation is the key word for reader and photographer alike. almost thankfully there are precious few photos depicting the racing; we have already suffered from that particular form of visual overload. instead, the tour de france is treated as the massively overblown event that it has become. that means, like the edinburgh festival, it has been infiltrated by a myriad of subcultures creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. however, in order to completely appreciate this in tangible form, it is necessary that we are made aware of these discrete parts.
there are moments when i reluctantly reached the yellow pages interspersing each stage, for they only served to reaffirm my viewing a book about the tour de france. so enigmatic are some of the book's image sequences, that total immersion in its pages almost obliterate specific reference. it is a subtle form of genius that works if you recognise it, but works every bit as well if you don't.
the era of cycling's progressive rock has ended. this is jazz.
saturday 9 november 2013