Thursday, October 27, 2005

Hollywood, CA

Friends: When I'm off on one of these bike adventures camping wild, I can't always bathe as often or as thoroughly as I'd like. Cleaning my clothes is much less of a challenge, as I can generally find a sink or a faucet every day or so to give them at least a cursory hand wash. Clean clothes in the morning is almost as good as a shower. I'll only wash my clothes, however, if I can count on them drying by the end of the day, since I don't carry much more than a single back-up attire. Drying isn't usually much of a concern, as I can readily dry my wash either on my body, when it is warm enough, or dangling in the breeze atop my gear held on by a pair of my trusty bungee cords.

In the desert clothes can dry in moments, but down the northern coast of California this rainy time of the year, body heat is about my only hope of drying anything, and even that is an iffy proposition. So neither me nor my garb has been getting cleaned as often as I'd like these past nine days since I've resumed my tour of the west. Fortunately I have friends to visit every 250 miles or so, where I've been able to shower and wash and rest and even watch the World Series. Oakland was my first stop, visiting a friend from my college days, my predecessor as head manager of Northwestern's football team. Yesterday I visited friends from the Telluride
Film Festival
who live outside of San Luis Obispo. This weekend I have a pair of friends to visit in LA. Then its on to Phoenix and then Marfa, Texas and finally Dallas.

My mind is kept well occupied anticipating the visit to come and reflecting on visits past. When I haven't had a friend to overnight at, the camping has been exceptional, one night amongst the redwoods, another in an avocado grove, once in a forest of eucalypts, but always near enough the ocean that my tent is drenched each morning from fog drip. Even after the fog burns off by mid or late morning, a breeze off the ocean can keep the air misty all day. If the sun comes out, there isn't enough warmth in it for drying even my flimsy neckerchief.

The 50 degree temps don't discourage many of those with convertibles from putting their tops down. There is quite an array of sports cars galvanating along the windy, climby coastal route. Rarely have I been subjected to one testing its limits. I've seen more Corvettes this past week than I see in a decade in Chicago. This is the off-season, so the traffic is fairly limited. It also meant that the Henry Miller Memorial Library just south of Big Sur was closed--more than a small disappointment, especially since a local newspaper said its restroom "defies description." But there were still hundreds of elephant seals sprawled along a stretch of beaches south of the Hearst Castle and a cluster of condors, each with a number stenciled on a wing, perched among the rocks a little south of Big Sur. They have been successfully reintroduced to the region and are very camera-friendly.

I've only encountered two sets of cyclists in the 600 miles I've come since resuming my travels, and was able to cycle along with each for a spell. I unknowingly spent a day with one of them a year-and-a-half ago atop L'Alpe d'Huez. He wasn't touring on his bike then, though he'd brought it with him. He drove within 20 miles of the Alp, until he was stopped by French police, who weren't allowing anyone without credentials to drive any further. He biked the rest of the way and was amongst the million or so fans on the mountain the day Lance won the time trial to its summit and clinched his sixth straight Tour win.

This week's Hollywood Reporter has a story about "George the Cyclist," film reviewer. A film critic/reporter who kept seeing me at film festivals around the world with my bike and followed my Cannes reviews at figured I was worthy of a story. I'll be biking through LA this weekend. I don't have any delusions about being discovered, though one never knows who might be looking for what in LA-LA land, but I'll be curious if anyone recognizes me, as the story is accompanied by a photo taken at last month's Telluride Film Festival. After a Chicago Tribune story about my travels a few years ago people were continaully asking me in the weeks afterward as I was messengering if I was the bicycle messenger who traveled the world that they had read about, some even jumping out of their car to shake my hand.

Later, George

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hollywood Reporter

Oct. 25, 2005

Cinephile pedals to world's film fests

By Patrick McGavin

CHICAGO --George Christensen has an athlete's lean, chiseled body and tapered legs. His long hair and beard project a solitary intensity. Growing up in the affluent north suburbs of Chicago, he developed a warrior code. He craved movement and action and hated anything he regarded as passive and inert, like watching television.

Movies offered something else. After seeing Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" as a teenager, he got hooked on the power and intensity of the moving image.

Now the 55-year-old biking enthusiast and movie lover has ingeniously found the means to combine his two passions. Several years ago, he began flying to major cities and then biking to as many international film festivals as was physically possible. "I am a bicyclist who likes movies much more than I am a moviegoer who likes to bicycle," Christensen says.

A Chicago-based bicycling messenger, Christensen typically rides his bike about 15,000 miles every year. He has cycled vast distances in pretty much every corner of the planet. (In March, he trekked to the Andes, in Ecuador. He has also cycled from Bombay to Calcutta, from Australia to Iceland, and in the Himalayas.)

Christensen recently returned home from a whirlwind tour of Europe in which he covered about 6,000 miles on his bicycle. He also "covered" more than 50 films at the Festival de Cannes, where he achieved a sort of notoriety in the cinephile blog community where he was known under the nom de guerre "George the Cyclist." Writing short, provocative pieces about the films he saw for the Rashomon web log, he would seek out content involving bicycles wherever he could find it.

Pointing out a short scene from Michael Haneke's prize-winning film "Cache" (Hidden), in which there is an angry exchange between an African cyclist and the movie's upper-middle-class protagonist played by Daniel Auteuil, a sequence seething with rage and social rupture, Christensen says directly: "It is, after all, a Haneke movie."

For the second consecutive year, Christensen has flown to Paris and traveled the 600-mile distance to Cannes on his bicycle. An arduous and dangerous route, Christensen ascended high atop the French mountains, where the altitude produced extreme change in temperatures. Traversing through snow-covered terrain, Christensen nearly suffered from hypothermia. On the descent, "it took about an hour to get the feeling back into my hands," he says. That didn't prevent him from replicating some of the Tour de France passes in the Alps and Pyrenees as a means of decompressing after the festival.

"I tour to experience different lands and cultures, and films allow me (to do) the same thing," he says. It is a wanderlust that has taken him to festivals in Berlin, Rotterdam, Thessaloniki, Greece, and to the Midnight Sun Festival in Finland, among others.

Last month he was beckoned back to the States to Telluride, Colo., for the open-air, mountain film festival, where he has been on staff in the shipping and receiving department for 11 years. "It takes a staff of 500 to put on the festival, and Telluride only has a population of 1,500, so two-thirds of the staff is recruited from elsewhere," he says. He loves the program's special events, and the opportunity to interact with other movie lovers.

"I am a bicyclist who likes movies," he says simply.

Cannes Profile

Cannes Film festival
By Patrick Z. McGavin

Final update June 11, 2004

Exhausted, avid for any kind of break, the natural tendency is to seek out familiar faces. The sight of George Christensen proves pleasant and oddly affirming. A romantic Chicago figure for being a die-hard cinephile and indefatigable bicyclist, Christensen is a volunteer usher at Facets and during the Chicago International Film festival. He has an athlete’s thin, tapered body, and long, lanky blond hair. His dedication is legendary. A couple of years ago he drove for two-days through a fierce snowstorm from Chicago to Park City, Utah to attend the Sundance Film festival.

Cannes plays primarily to the professional elites, though it attracts a class of dreamers and romantics eager to define their own experiences. Christensen has traveled all over the world on his bicycle, though mostly in third-world countries. “Going to Europe is so conventional,” Christensen says during coffee one afternoon. Christensen left Chicago in late April, and joined a friend, a younger film enthusiast and bicyclist, in Paris. The two completed the trek from Paris to Cannes on their bicycles over a period of about ten days.

The festival as quest fits a pattern with Christensen. Once before, he flew to Helsinki. Christensen rode his bike 700 miles, passed the polar circle, in Lapland, for the Midnight Sun Film festival. He has also taken his bike on festival sojourns to Berlin and Rotterdam. “It’s a great asset to zip from one venue to the other,” he says, almost nonchalantly.

“Biking here, it was the first week of May, but in the mountains, it was cold enough to snow. We were not even that high up, about 4,000 feet. We had about a 20-mile descent from there, and the first couple of miles were in sleet. We had frozen hands and we were shivering uncontrollably. We had an hour descent without being able to generate any body heat. What pushed us was knowing in a couple of days that we’d be in Cannes at the beach,” Christensen said.

Christensen graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in the mid-'70s. He hoped to become a sportswriter, though the freedom and allure of the open road was too compelling. In 1977, Christensen took his first significant bike journey, a national cross-country tour. He has been hooked ever since, working as a Cannonball bicycle messenger to help subsidize his epic trips. At Cannes he bought a market badge that cost roughly $350. He has been watching about five or six movies a day. He has seen about eight to ten Competition films; the rest have been parallel programs and official festival sidebars. To save money, he and his friend stayed at a campground a couple of miles outside the city.

“I have to be careful about where my obsessions take me,” he says, pausing. “I’d rather live a writer’s life, and not have to write.”