Culture notes

Knights on wheels

9 May 2013

1:00 PM

9 May 2013

1:00 PM

A knight and his lady awaken, naked in the forest. She pins up her embroidered gown while he begins his ablutions in a pond. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! He plants a stick between his shoulder blades before getting dressed himself. On goes his tunic, gauntlets and plated armour. And then they both climb on to his motorbike before riding out into the morning mist.

Hang on a second – a motorbike?! It sounds ridiculous, but that’s how it is in George Romero’s Knightriders (1981), now out on DVD for the first time in the UK. Our knight in the forest is actually Ed Harris’s Billy, the leader of a troupe of men and women who travel around America putting on shows in small towns. They dress up in knock-off medieval garb, hop on bikes, and joust with each other and with modernity, man.


I’ll admit, my tolerance for knights on wheels is probably higher than yours. But the reason I love Knightriders is that it isn’t really about that. Like Mr Romero’s more well-known zombie movies, this is a film about society, how it can survive and how it can break down. It’s just that, here, the encroaching undead are press agents and conmen and corrupt policemen. It’s against them that Billy defends his way of life.

‘I’m not trying to be a hero! I’m fighting the dragon!’ howls Billy at one point. Would Henry David Thoreau have said something similar as he entered his cabin? Would Walt Whitman? Probably — but those guys didn’t do motorcycle stunts.


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