Screens Function follows form

To make a better world, a group of Madison revolutionaries began with the street

S.C.A.B., a small art-and-revolution cadre born on the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, may never become a household name, but if it does it will likely be because Brian Standing’s 2000 documentary Pedalphiles (released this fall by Prolefeed studios and available on caught the public’s imagination. Like many revolutionary movements, the idea of S.C.A.B. is easier for the proletariat to swallow than the actual methods.

S.C.A.B.’s unofficial engineer, Tyson, rides a bike he created that was inspired by the old Big Wheels tricycles.

S.C.A.B., Skids Creating Apocalyptic Bicycles, is a group of 20-somethings who create human-powered metal fantasias based loosely on the bicycle. With insight from physics genius Tyson and fire from amateur welder Amanda (and how cool is a chick who welds?), they turn scrapped gears, forks, handlebars, and other odds and ends into amusing and sometimes intimidating machines that they use to attract attention to their cause: down with the automobile, embodiment of all that’s wrong with modern man. Like many on the Left, they eat their own because baby steps are not enough. In the film’s funniest scene, S.C.A.B. members, one wearing a gas mask, hand out fliers that read “Middle-class cop out week” to bicycle enthusiasts participating in “Bike to Work Week.”

It’s crucial to S.C.A.B. philosophy to use discarded pieces to create new rides, rather than buy the $800 commuter model touted by the Bike to Work organizers. “It’s guilt-free,” says one of the group’s founding members. The pedalphiles redeem would-be garbage, participate as little as possible in consumer culture, don’t pollute; and bicyclists seldom kill pedestrians or other commuters.

Benefits aside, the S.C.A.B. lifestyle is not for the complacent or faint of heart. Tyson discusses his succession of unhappy landlords. Founders Michael and Jeremy laugh about their old apartment, in which one lightbulb worked — unlike the thermostat, which was stuck at 90 degrees. Angela, who describes herself as more of a sidekick girlfriend than full-fledged member, has graduated to S.C.A.B. from her days as a street kid.

“Why can’t they be like everybody else?” Part Four of the documentary wonders. It’s a question no one can really answer, and I’m not sure anyone asks in this post-MTV era, outside of coming-of-age films. Society has always had its outliers and critics — it needs them as much as it needs inventors and artists, and S.C.A.B. members happen to be all three. But if the drivers the pedalphiles enjoy pissing off do harbor misconceptions about S.C.A.B., the distortion runs both ways.

Dir. Brian Standing

“No one really likes it, they just think they want it,” says Michael of the suburban lifestyle. When he’s not indulging his passion, Michael works in a cubicle with a woman who finds meaning through shopping and Jesus in equal measure, a scenario that causes sweat to break out on my forehead. Yet, I can’t deny that plenty of people seem perfectly happy with the tract homes, Suburbans, and kid soccer schedules that S.C.A.B. derides. Any successful revolution might need to think in terms of sales rather than in the old models that call for waking the hoi polloi from mass delusion.

Which is where a film like Pedalphiles comes into play. After spending 38 minutes with these lighthearted pranksters, you’ll root for their artistry and idealism to succeed, somehow, on a city street near you, even if you don’t yet agree with Amanda that “There’s really no excuse not to make your own.”

By Elaine Wolff


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