This month, the Bicycle Film Series presents another epic documentary by Jorgen Leth (director of “A Sunday in Hell”). Chosen as one of the Top 10 bicycle films of all time by Bicycling Magazine, “Stars and Watercarriers” follows the 1973 Giro d’Italia. But it’s not a story about the race. Instead, you get unforgettable images of Eddy Merckx, such as when he lets a hometown racer go off the front for a moment of glory then ferociously chases and passes him with a look that would give Lance Armstrong the shivers. And you get to know the “watercarriers” – a.k.a the workers whose images are perhaps more inspiring than Merckx’s.
In his film commentary, Leth explains the fascination exerted by the great cycling races: “The most beautiful, most pathetic images cycling can give us involve extreme performances in classic terrain.” The action literally emerges on the move and the riders readily assume the roles tradition and epic necessity allocate to them, with the central conflict between Belgian legend Eddy Merckx and the Spanish mountain specialist José Manuel Fuente.
“Stars and Watercarriers” was created by a small film unit that used a vivid documentary style to describe the race from up close and sometimes quite from within. The film consists of 10 sections, each with a title such as “A road of pain” and “A peaceful day”; thus it alternates between dramatic and more peaceful passages with Leth’s commentary leading the viewer soberly, empathetically and humorously.