In high school, I took a film class where we watched and analyzed old and new films. Among the films was Breaking Away, a classic from 1979.
The film was among a couple films which I mentioned to a colleague who loves to review films. While sports are not my forte, sports films are different as most go way deeper than just talking about their sport.
And since I’ve been riding the 1981 Free Spirit Pinnacle for some time now since resurrecting it and chronicling weekly about it, I thought it would be a perfect time to review Breaking Away.
Note: This review includes spoilers.
Even before seeing the film I knew I’d enjoy at least some parts of it. While I’ve never been seriously deep into bicycling, I’ve bicycled in some fashion since I was five or six years old. There isn’t a whole lot of films out there that feature bicycling – either in general or as a sport.
When I saw the film I instantly fell in love with it. That class featured many films that I never saw before but now claim favorites, such as Hoosiers and Gran Torino. Similar to Hoosiers, Breaking Away is a sports film where the underdog wins in the end. However, Breaking Away has a lot more than that going for it.
Breaking Away isn’t just a sports film. It’s a coming-of-age film. Almost anyone over the age of, say, eighteen can relate to this film in one fashion or another. A good example of this is the group of friends who Dave hangs out with. Dave, Mike, Cyril and Moocher (yes, those are the character names) all just graduated from high school and are at a point where they don’t know which direction to go. They’re also afraid of loosing each other and going in all separate directions.
To add to the coming-of-age and sports qualities, this film has a lot of conflict. The biggest is the socioeconomic clash between the rich college students and the townies. The townies, referred to as “cutters” by the students, were blue-collar families who typically earned their living from working in the limestone quarries. (Hence, the name.)
The other major conflict lies between Dave and his father. Dave starts to act as if he’s Italian – singing Italian operas, eating Italian food, worshiping Italian bicycling heroes and anything else Italian – after winning an Italian Masi bike. Dave’s father, however, is more realistic and doesn’t find Dave’s act amusing. He thinks Dave needs to start earning a living and do something more productive than hanging out with friends, bicycling and swimming in the quarries. Dave’s mother, on the other hand, is more welcoming of Dave’s dreams and obsessions.
As if that wasn’t enough to prove this movie has everything, there’s the romance. Dave develops a relationship with a girl who attends the university. They hit it off, but after the climax there is a huge tensions that leads to a “slap in the face” towards Dave.
This movie was a low-budget film using actors who were just starting out their careers. Despite this, it reels you in and keeps you entertained like a giant, well-funded blockbuster.
The two people behind Breaking Away shocks some people.
Steve Tesich, a Yugoslavian screenwriter, was the brains behind Breaking Away’s story. English producer Peter Yates made it – a story about some American teenagers in Bloomington, Indiana – a reality.
The filming was a large event for Indiana University and the city of Bloomington. It put both IU and Bloomington on the map, and the town and university are still associated with the film to this day.
In real life, Indiana University hosts two Little 500 bicycle races each spring. (One for men, the other for women.) The bicycle race which Dave takes part in at the end is the Little 500, and there are some other parts associated with that race in the film that I won’t spoil. (Hint: conflict.)
This makes sense when you realize Tesich was an IU grad who had an interest in bicycling. One of Tesich’s friends was Dave Blase. Blase was an IU student who had an affinity for bicycling and, much like Dave Stoller in the movie, had an interest in anything and everything Italian.
Breaking Away continues to impact people nearly four decades after its release.
The movie has became a favorite of bicyclists. Partially because not very many movies are produced with bicycling as a major plot point. But the messages the movie sends has inspired others to get back up and keep going. The movie also helped ordinary people get into bicycling, whether it be for just recreation, transportation, racing or as a hobby.
The movie placed IU and Bloomington on the map, as well as the Little 500 bicycle race.
For the actors, Daniel Stern got his start with Breaking Away.
A short TV series with the same title was also created, and was also the debut for Jeff Daniels. I plan on also reviewing the TV series, which was canceled after only seven episodes and has largely remained untouched and not talked about after nearly four decades.
Breaking Away is perhaps one of my favorite films of all time. Despite its age and low budget, the quality of acting and amazing story makes up and then some.
Breaking Away inspired me – as well as many other people (see “The Impact” heading) – to start bicycling. As I mentioned in the beginning of this entry, I’ve biked in some form since I was six or seven. But after I got my license and was able to go places quicker – and without getting tired and breathless – I turned to driving. Breaking Away inspired me to dust off the 1981 Free Spirit Pinnacle and bring it back to life. Since, the Pinnacle has been returned to daily service. (Yes, I ride it everyday unless it’s on the fritz.)
But Breaking Away goes deeper than the bicycling aspects. I, like many others, can connect on a personal level that I don’t see with many other films. In fact, I’ve shown this film to a couple different people and they all connected with it in some form. The coming-of-age, conflict between the town and gown, and conflict between you and your parents are just a few contenders for possible connection points. What about wanting to be someone you couldn’t be? Or acting like that person to score a date?
I could go on and on. The film may not surpass Citizen Kane or other list leaders as the most liked film, but it has reserved its spot on a lot of people’s favorite lists. I know its earned it’s spot on mine.
For Further Reading:
AT&T Long Lines tie-in
During the movie, you can see the Bloomington, Indiana Long Lines installation, which – like most other large cities – is situated on top of the telephone company building. According to Google Maps, the horn antennas are still installed and the building is still utilized by AT&T.
Below are some screenshots of frames including the antennas, along with their associated times.
The Bloomington, IN Long Lines horns are still in place, although they’re very likely not used for anything.