Ridley Scott’s “Boy & Bicycle” (1965)

ridley-scott-featured

This being a film journal about contemporary and classic film directors, I often invoke the term “auteur” to describe a filmmaker who brings a singular identity to bear on any given work.  There are many different kinds of auteurs– there are those, like Sofia Coppola or David Fincher, who are revered for a consistent artistic style, while others like Terrence Malick or Paul Thomas Anderson tend to dwell on a variation of the same set of ideological themes over the course of their work.  Still others, like celebrated British director Sir Ridley Scott, routinely defy such easy compartmentalization.  Scott’s artistic character isn’t necessarily marked by a recurring set of themes or a specific visual style, although his filmography evidences plenty of examples for both.  The projects he takes on suggest more of a journeyman’s attitude to the craft rather than an artistic display of self-expression.  Indeed, Scott is one of the hardest-working filmmakers in the business– 2017 alone will see the release of no less than two of his features, and the man just turned eighty years old.  The latter of these features, the upcoming ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, has been in the news recently because of Scott’s decision to remove Kevin Spacey from the finished film in the wake of the star’s sexual harassment scandal, replacing him with Christopher Plummer with only a scant few weeks to go before the film’s release.  Simply put, Scott is a beast, and his work ethic is unparalleled.  The same can be said of his artistic legacy, which encompasses a deep body of work– some of them among the most influential films of all time.  ALIEN (1979), BLADE RUNNER (1982), THELMA & LOUISE (1991), GLADIATOR (2000), BLACK HAWK DOWN (2001)…. the list goes on and on.  The three-time Oscar nominee brings a highly visual approach to fully-formed cinematic worlds, each successive film existing within its own contained universe (or sharing an existing universe in the case of his three films in the ALIEN franchise).  Even as he enters his eighth decade of life, Scott remains a vital force in contemporary mainstream filmmaking, churning out a new film seemingly year after year with no end in sight.  

Scott was born on November 30th, 1937 in South Shields, County Durham, in northeastern England (4).  His father, Colonel Francis Percy Scott, was largely absent throughout much of Ridley’s early childhood due to his being an officer in the Royal Engineers during World War II (2)(3).  His older brother, Frank, was much older, also unable to serve as a father figure to young Ridley because of his duties to the British Merchant Navy (5).  This left Ridley and his younger brother, Tony, in the sole care of their mother Elizabeth Williams, and many film scholars trace the director’s flair with strong female characters all the way back to her singular influence.  After the war, the Scotts settled along Greens Beck Road in Hartburn– the smoky industrial vistas of which would famously sear themselves into the mind of the young director as a formative influence for BLADE RUNNER’s dystopian vision of Los Angeles circa 2019 (6).  

Scott’s interest in filmmaking came about by way of a passion for design, which he formally studied at the West Hartlepool College of Art.  After graduating in 1958, he moved to London to attend the Royal College of Art, where he was instrumental in establishing the school’s film department.  1961 saw the production of his very first film, an experimental short called BOY & BICYCLE.  The film was initially financed by RCA to the tune of 65 pounds, and shot in the director’s home turf of West Hartlepool as well as Seaton Carew.  An intensely personal work, BOY & BICYCLE features a young Tony Scott in the title role, playing a curious rascal who aimlessly rides his bike through the empty industrial landscapes of the British Steel North Works and pretends he’s the last person on earth.  Shot on black and white 16mm film on RCA’s standard-issue Bolex, BOY & BICYCLE’s narrative structure is a natural product of shooting without sound, but it also highlights Scott’s inherent proclivity for pictorial storytelling.  What little dialogue Scott employs was dubbed after the fact, favoring handheld cinema-verite style images strung together by a rambling voiceover delivered by Tony in a thick accent that, admittedly, renders the whole thing nearly unintelligible.  BOY & BICYCLE moves along at a brisk clip thanks to the propulsive energy availed by Scott’s shooting handheld and out of the back and sides of a moving vehicle.  John Baker’s music complements the fleet-footed tone, a credit he shares with renowned composer John Barry, who was reportedly so impressed by Scott’s cinematic eye that he recorded a new version of his track, “Onward Christian Spacemen”, for exclusive use in the film.  

In shooting the film entirely by himself, Scott’s inherent talent for the medium becomes clear.  His later reputation as a visual stylist takes firm root here, boasting compelling compositions and a deft, naturalistic touch with lighting.  It’s also fitting that the fascination with world-building that would shape most of his films starts here with the natural world around him.  BOY & BICYCLE’s sense of place is very clear, with nearly every shot composed to favor the moody, polluted landscape or the quaint structures of an old seaside town.  While shot in 1961, BOY & BICYCLE wouldn’t actually be finished until 1965, after receiving a 250 pound grant by the British Film Institute’s experimental film fund.  BOY & BICYCLE may not quite resemble the artistic voice that has since become iconic in contemporary cinema, but it is nevertheless a milestone work in Scott’s career, serving as a calling card for the burgeoning young director to launch himself out of the minor leagues of amateur student filmmaking.  

BOY & BICYCLE is currently available on Youtube via the embed above.

  1. IMDB Trivia Page
  2. Via Wikipedia: How Winston helped save the nation”. Scotsman.com Living. 6 July 2002. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
  3. Via Wikipedia: Ridley Scott: England and Wales Birth Registration Index”. Family Search.org.
  4. Via Wikipedia: “Sir Ridley Scott”. Monsters-movies.com. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
  5. Via Wikipedia: “Ten Things About… Ridley Scott”. Digital Spy. 19 December 2016.
  6. Via Wikipedia:  “The Blade Runner Connection”. BBC. Retrieved 26 November 2014