Bicycle Kick (9)
May 6, 2010
In Three Days of the Condor (1975), Joe Turner (Robert Redford) is a reluctant CIA employee who is particularly skilled at pattern recognition; he’s charged with reading pulp novels, newspapers, magazines (and comics) from around the world, looking for secret meanings and new ideas. Except for the CIA part, it sounds like the perfect job: “I just read books!”
Turner’s office is replete with signifiers of his quasi-apophenic intelligence — charts and graphs, Einstein poster, Da Vinci-like flying machine model, Daumier’s phrenological caricatures of French politicians. Of particular interest are the bicycle illustrations pinned to his bulletin board. What, one wonders, so fascinates this fictional supermind about these beautiful, elegant machines: rolling drag, transmission of power from rider to wheels, heat management?
A few moments later, when Turner repairs a CIA communications device with a Swiss Army knife (this foreshadows a key scene in which — SPOILER ALERT — he hacks into New York’s telephone system), we get the picture. He’s a hacker, an open-source ideologue. What he no doubt admires about bicycles is the fact that their working parts are exposed, open to view, easy to tinker with — i.e., for Turner, the bicycle is an apt symbol of how life in a democracy ought to work.
In the movie’s final scene, a CIA honcho demands of Turner what ordinary Americans will want their government to do once the world runs out of oil. It’s a rhetorical question, but Turner replies with a credo that was, in one form or another, the implicit refrain of many of the early Seventies’ best thrillers and SF flicks, including Sleeper, Soylent Green, The Crazies, The Long Goodbye*, Chinatown, The Conversation, Nashville, The Parallax View, Zardoz, Rollerball, and Logan’s Run: “Ask them.” Spoken like a true bicycle aficionado.
Ninth in a series of twelve.
* Sleeper, Soylent Green, The Crazies, and The Long Goodbye came out in ’73, which is the final year of the Sixties, according to my periodization scheme. However, it’s a cusp year between the two eras — not only for people, that is, but movies and other cultural productions, e.g., the novels Crash and Gravity’s Rainbow, and the albums Dark Side of the Moon and Raw Power.