Red Light Go
directed by Ben & Toby Barraud
(KSK, 2002)

The documentary Red Light Go introduces a set of alleycat racers, then rotates through interviews with them as they comment on their lives, how they got into their current lifestyle, what they think of each other, a little about the bicycle messenger job and a lot about "alleycat" races. These races are semi-structured, grueling, urban bicycle races, arranged by some of the participants.

The cinematography of this DVD is great, taking the viewer right there with the racers -- during races, during their "day jobs" and during social gatherings.

The title and cover image give a very accurate impression of what the documentary is about. At first, I was expecting it to be about bicycle messengers in general. Through the different interviews, it becomes clear to me that the "alleycat racers" are a subset culture; what sets them apart are some of the same factors that set apart the participants in any "extreme" variation of any sport: pushing the limits, taking risks and enjoying the thrill of danger. Many of them also dress in ways that clearly identify them as extreme, non-conformist counter-culturists.

There is a fair amount of profanity mixed into the interviews, as well as quite a few references to substance abuse. One of the alleycat races involves the participants carrying bags of items that look like illegal drugs, adding the possibility that police might stop them en route. That is just considered one more obstacle in the race.

This documentary is much more about the racers than the races. The big Halloween race, following a pentagram-in-a-circle-shaped route through rush-hour traffic in New York City, is shown in pretty good detail, although the traffic and the dwindling daylight make it hard to follow the action. Otherwise, the documentary is mainly about the racers and their lives.

Even at my height of bicycling, I would not have wanted to be involved in these alleycat races. The documentary makes two things clear: there is little regard for the safety of pedestrians and motorists, and winning the races has as much to do with being loud and pushy at the checkpoints as it does with being fast.

If you are looking for a DVD about bicycle racing, check out Breaking Away. If you want to learn about what it would be like to be a bicycle messenger in a big city, look elsewhere. But, if you want to find out about the counter-culture that exists among the bicycle messengers who are also alleycat racers, Red Light Go is exactly what you're looking for. I learned a lot about this group and the counter-culture they have developed, and the documentary is technically well done.

by Chris McCallister
20 May 2006

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