12 O’Clock Boys

Read Kamikaze Bikers by Ikuya Satō


Release date: January 31, 2014
Director: Lotfy Nathan
Language: English

Who should watch this movie: Folks from Baltimore. People who prefer Durkheim’s Suicide (1897) to his Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912).

When should you watch this movie: On a lazy Sunday morning. When you’ve left the USA, probably for good. 

The sell: Can a documentary be loving? If so, this one is. 12 O’clock Boys refers to the loosely associated group of dirt bike riders, famous for high speed rides down Baltimore city streets, popping daring wheelies so high that the bikes mimic the hands of a clock at 12. This documentary is in part about the 12 O’Clock boys, their culture and role in the city, and in part about Pug, a 13 year old boy hell-bent on joining the 12 O’Clock boys. Filmed over the course of three years, this documentary bears witness to ever-present tensions between riders and city police, as well as Pug’s own growth in a city that cares very little for him. Where the city, it’s law enforcement, and news media see the riders and kids like Pug – all black men and boys – as dangerous threats to order, the film focuses on their joy, their sadness, and their deep love for the ride and for each other. They have pride in their city despite its hostility. They take care of one another and are concerned with passing the practice on to future generations. Pug struggles, torn between home where his anxious mother rightfully worries about his safety, and the pack, which he longs to be a part of. The camera is quiet and largely inactive. Passively observing both high speed chases and intimate familial interactions. When it was released, audiences raised several important questions about the safety of dirt-bike riding, and riding as an alternative to gang violence in a city with concentrated disadvantage. However, the film itself is not concerned with these questions. It is primarily concerned with people who love bikes. People who within themselves contain layers of complex motivations and rebellious spirits. Whether they are looking for escape, solidarity, or thrill is not for the film or filmmakers to say. 

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