Sunday, July 8, 2012

I read a very interesting book recently: "Taking it to the Limit--20 years of making motorcycle movies" by Peter Starr.  I have a memory of seeing the film "Taking it to the Limit" in the Isle of Man in the early '80's.  The film was similar to "On and Sunday" in that it was a documentary potpourri of motorcycle sport: roadracing, flattrack, MX, drag racing, trials, speedway and even play riding.  I didn't remember the film well,  but the one surviving memory was Mike Hailwood going around the IOM TT Mountain course with a camera mounted bike in the mist (as the Brits call fog).  After reading the book, it turns out, once again, that my memories are suspect.  The film was first released at Daytona in 1980 and only ran a few weeks before the distribution company went bust.  The film was then tied up in litigation for the next four years and was never re-released in the original form.  Once Starr regain control of the rights to the film, he made a deal with Kawasaki, who wanted to use the slogan 'Taking it to the Limit".  The film was remade with about 2/3 of the original footage and 1/3 new material featuring Kawasakis.  So, maybe I didn't see it at the IOM, but rather Daytona, or maybe I saw the remade film much later.  But, I did see the bit with Mike Hailwood on the TT course in the mist.  What I didn't know until I read the book, was that this was filmed before Hailwood made his comeback in '78 on the Ducati.  It was done in practice for the '77 Manx GP and done on an OW31 750 Yamaha, a bike Mike had never ridden before.  Not only was it done with a big film camera in the front of the fairling, he did it with a microphone in his helmet and carrying a tape recorder on the bike.
These days, we take the onboard video for granted but, in those days, filming onboard was a huge deal.  Not only were the cameras very heavy, bulky and expensive, the film canister only lasted for a few minutes.
"Taking it to the Limit" is only a small part of  the motorcycle films Peter Starr has made for theater and TV.  For example, it was Starr who got the footage of Kenny Roberts winning the '75 Indy Mile out of the last corner on the TZ 750 dirt tracker.  And, Mike Hailwood is only one of an incredible list of motorcycle greats he has worked with.  In fact, the book ends with 15 pages of short profiles of the great competitors he has filmed, starting with Agostini and ending with Jeff Ward, with Steve Baker, Russ Collins, Roger DeCoster, Ricky Graham, Eddie Lawson, Ivan Mauger, Gary Nixon, Scotty Parker, Kenny Roberts some of the names in between.  Among the "S's" alone are Gary Scott, Sheene, Shobert, Malcolm Smith, Marty Smith, Spencer, and Springsteen. 
The book is a fascinating insight to the technical problems of filming motorcycle competition but also a great review of the competition of the '70's and '80s.
The book has a wealth of wonderful period photos and comes with a DVD with excerpts from some of Starr's films.
I highly recommend it.  Available from

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