Burt Monro: “The World’s Fastest Indian” (Motorcycle)

Friday, March 2, 2018

“A miracle that all this speed waits in a lever for the pleasure of my hand.” — T.E. Lawrence, The Mint

It’s been quite a while since we’ve had any measurable amount of rain in Long Beach and I am grateful to be able to spend the morning at home, listening to its subtle rhythms. Last night, I took a little time off to watch “The World’s Fastest Indian,” which is a bio-pic about a land-speed enthusiast from New Zealand who set a record at Bonneville Salt Flats in the 1960s on his highly modified Indian motorcycle. Even though the film starred Anthony Hopkins as the film’s affable, eccentric hero, Burt Monroe, I had never heard of this particular film until now. As I watching it, I kept wondering how I had missed it. It certainly is not the case that the subject matter has never interested me. Though I have little time to devote to the subject now, I was intrigued by mechanical speed when I was young. I went out to the Ontario Speed Way, which has long since been demolished, back in the early 1970s, and saw the first instance in which a car did four consecutive laps at an average speed of 200 miles per hour. Even looking across the track, I could tell that that car was propelling itself faster than any other vehicle that day.

It turned out that the film had been first released in 2005, and its first showing in the U.S. was in February, 2006. I was rather busy at that point, teaching several classes at St. John’s University in Queens as well as teaching at Nassau Community College. In addition, I was on the cusp of being interviewed for the job I currently have at CSULB. No wonder this film pass unnoticed by someone who would have loved to have seen it on a big screen.

I suppose one could grouse about the nonchalant privileging of white male power. It is not fault of the character the film is based on that the motorcycle he mobilizes to honor “the gods of speed” is named in a flippant appropriation of indigenous people, but one wonders whether a Native American named Jake truly represents an encounter that happened in Monro’s sojourns in the United States.

On the whole, though, this tale of individual determination has many masterful touches. An unusual degree of empathy for the story must have inspired the casting agents. No matter how brief the parts, the entire cast of the film contributes to a mosaic of affirmation.

I was grateful, too, that Rupert had deigned to return to stay with us for the evening.

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