Friday, April 4, 2008
Imperfection Is Perfection
“I love working at the bench. It’s the best part of the job.”—Richard Sachs
Filmmaker Desmond Horsfield has made a documentary about Richard Sachs. Having now seen the work no less than a half dozen times, I can say it is a momentous work encompassing all that Richard Sachs is: frame builder, racer and philosopher.
There are a number of theories about why Richard Sachs is arguably the most popular of all frame builders. I’ve often pondered the issue myself. Now I know. Even though I’ve known Sachs for more than 15 years, the documentary condenses the man to his essence. He is, frankly, the archetypal frame builder. Equal parts artisan, engineer, racer and theoretician, he is all things we imagine a master should be.
The film opens where it should: With riding shots of Sachs aboard his bike. Riding the bike is, after all, where it begins and ends for Sachs and where he wants the experience to begin and end for his clients.
From riding, Horsfield moves next to a shot of Sachs brazing. The thrill of seeing Sachs braze is akin to seeing Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly walk onscreen. It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The drama we experience as we watch is Horsfield’s creation. His camera movements are efficient, economic even, and his editing seamless, fluid.
Filmmaking is much like sculpture and the artist’s real talent comes in knowing what to take away; how to leave just enough behind. What you see onscreen is imperative.
One wonders how many people have actually seen the man braze. Like painting or writing, brazing is solitary effort, and as rarely recorded as whales mating. What you notice is his precision of movement, how his hands execute each act with the assured grace of the routine. To see him braze is to know the brush stroke of Monet. And all the while the voiceover continues as a counterpoint to the physicality of fabricating the frame itself.
Sachs gave Horsfield a surprisingly rich vein to mine. From saved letters and newspaper clipping to old photos and videotape, Sachs’ archives add a depth to the film utterly unexpected. We also see Sachs racing in his latest passion, cyclocross, and seeing him work his way up through slower traffic tells you just how serious he takes racing.
I expected to watch the film and come away with a better sense of how to build a great bicycle frame from steel. That didn’t happen. Ultimately, the film raises more questions than it answers. It’s a window into an endeavor, not a skill. That, perhaps, might be Horsfield’s great achievement; he created a film that reflects the conversation that Sachs wants to have, not the job skill we may imagine frame building to be.
In documenting Sachs’ lifetime of work, Horsfield has not only created a great film about two subjects we find fascinating—Sachs and frame building—but he has created an indispensable work for all those who find beauty in cycling.
To order the DVD go here. To learn more about the film maker and see a clip, go here.