Bicycle cinema: Machine identity and the moving image

Thesis Eleven 138 (1):65-80 (2017)
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This paper examines the relationship between identities and the bicycle as portrayed in films. The analysis finds that taking the viewpoint of the bicycle emancipates the bicycle from being subjected to closure, as the constructionists would have it, and thus articulates the differences with which the bicycle can communicate to its rider. The paper examines the bicycle as depicted in three films: Premium Rush, A Sunday in Hell and Life on Earth. It engages with the concept of ‘interpretative flexibility’ and the development of the bicycle, as examined by Wiebe Bijker and others, and argues that the interpretative flexibility of bicycles does not cease just because the high-wheeler was abandoned and the ‘safety’ bicycle was universally accepted. The fight for the role of the bicycle continues and the bicycle is subject to constant transformations in order to reconstruct it according to human needs. Andrew Feenberg’s modified constructivism is applied to re-examine the technical development of the bicycle, claiming that technology is dependent on specific social structures as well as human agency. The paper argues that just as social structures are negotiable and unfixed at any point in time, the bicycle too is never neutral but remains negotiable and unfixed. Consequently, since the bicycle constantly ‘speaks’ back to the user, there is never closure in the technical development of the bicycle. Drawing on the writings of Bruno Latour and the Deleuzian idea of assemblages, the bicycle and its rider are considered as an organic entity that is constantly forged and un-forged. Understanding the rhetoric of the bicycle machine helps the convergence of a bicycle becoming with becoming a rider, marking the bicycle as equal to its rider. Viewed in this way, the hierarchy of agency collapses and a crystallization emerges out of the rider and bicycle entwinement.



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