Out of Nothing (2017) REVIEW – The Metaphysics Of Speed
Four high-speed motorcyclists compete for world records in this exhilarating documentary.
I don’t know anything about motorcycles and have virtually no desire to go fast except within the confines of a roller coaster, so of course I wondered whether I’d be able to get into a documentary about high-speed motorcycle racing. But this is a very well-crafted film, not too heavy on the technical details, and it follows a group of four guys that we really come to care about. Directed by Chad DeRosa, Out of Nothing follows Mark Bjorklund, Carl Bjorklund, Jason Omer, and Bill Woods as they try to break various land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. First released in 2014, Out of Nothing is finally getting a proper VOD release via Uncork’d Entertainment this October.
Besides very, very fast motorcycles, the four friends featured in the movie have one thing in common: they really seem to hate their workaday jobs in laboring, mostly construction-related fields. Racing at Bonneville is their only chance at glory. I say glory, because this is a very specialized kind of race, so they’re not really going to be famous (well, maybe they will be a bit famous because of this documentary), and there’s no money in it, so they can’t even hold on to the vague hope of leaving their jobs to do this full-time. There’s only their existential all-consuming passion and the promise of a small piece of history to claim credit for, the mention of their names in a book somewhere.
Naturally, the movie attempts in its way to answer the question of why we attempt to do anything for passion, not for money or fame, but because we’re driven, obsessed. Something is touched on here about our motivation to succeed simply because we’re human. It’s this drive that has built civilizations, brought us to the moon, and created weapons of imaginable destruction. Out of Nothing concentrates mostly on the positive side of this kind of obsession, but this kind of racing is very high-risk, and death is always looming, though mostly unspoken, and this feels correct, because sometimes the most destructive things are the most silent.
Second to the big existential questions, Out of Nothing is very much about friendship and community. The movie begins with neat narrative device. We get a snippet of the individual subjects’ lives before we learn that they’re all friends who hang out together. I mean, we assume the Bjorklund brothers are tight, but one never knows. These are four very traditionally masculine guys with very strong personalities who love each other. They rib each other, sometimes to the point of making each other furious, but they’ve created a lasting brotherhood through their work.
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And it’s pretty amazing to watch a small community form for these races out in the middle of nowhere. Where there was nothing moments before, a small town of trailers and tents is set up. The racers are rivals, sure, in that they’re competing for the same records, but they’re also a kind of extended family, even if they’ve never met before. Everyone interviewed on the subject claims that they will lend a part for their vehicle if someone need one, and it really has a ring of truth about it. Maybe I’m gullible, but maybe these folks do look out for each other like this.
It can’t go unremarked that Out of Nothing is an exceedingly beautiful film. DeRosa serves as his own cinematographer, and appears to have done most of the camerawork himself (others worked on the time-lapse footage and radio-controlled aerials). And it’s not just the salt flat footage, which is gorgeous stuff in its desolation, but there’s also the imagery of the guys working on their motorcycles, lovingly crafting their vehicles in the year between the annual event. We also get some insane POV shots from the motorcycles as they’re in motion, something that will either thrill you or scare the living shit out of you. I had both of these reactions.
The pace is surprisingly subdued. DeRosa goes for a mostly mellow soundtrack and the shots are sometimes on the long-ish side. Another director might have gone for shorter cuts and faster music to emphasize the speed, but DeRosa was clearly more interested in the meditative qualities of the racing. There’s a lot of room here to just sit back and appreciate the gorgeous imagery.
I mean, it’s a cliche to say that a thing is more about the journey than the destination, but that’s kinda the lesson here. But the destination is also important, since it can mean personal glory, and make history. Until the next person comes along with something faster, of course. So there’s a kind of peak experience that comes with the journey, but even the riders who do make world records are back in their shops after the race, gearing up for the next year’s competition. There’s no time to rest. There’s just the doing.
Out of Nothing will be released on all major VOD platforms on October 3rd.