Ride Or Die: 12 O'Clock Boys
After seeing 12 O’Clock Boys, the only way I’m going to believe anyone when they say, “Fuck the police,” is if they’re shouting it while kicking a moving squad car from the back of a dirt bike. That actually happens during this amazing documentary, because dirt bike riders own the streets in Baltimore. Flip through YouTube and you’ll find videos of riders flying through traffic like a swarm of locusts swallowing up everything in the streets — including police cars that are unable to give chase because of public safety laws.
To film 12 O’Clock Boys, which premiered at SXSW, director Latfy Nathan spent almost five years getting closer to the gang. “There was a mystique about them and they seemed very elusive so I thought it would be an interesting effort,” he told Milk Made. “Originally I was calling it ‘In Search of the 12 O’Clock Boys’ and it was going to be about five minutes long. I never really expected to engage with them but they were really receptive to being filmed.”
The movie is filled with characters, from the riders who brag about how many YouTube hits their stunts have pulled, to the guys who have retired their wheels but still make time to hide bikes from police choppers, and take youngsters out into the woods to practice popping wheelies. Popping wheelies is a big deal in Baltimore — that’s how the gang and the movie gets its name: "12 O’Clock" refers to when a bike pops its front wheel so high that the bike is nearly vertical, like clock hands at noon. Watching nearly airborne bikes glide through the air in glorious slow motion is one of the highlights of the film.
"It was just really beautiful material," Nathan said, "And it ended up informing the audience of Pug’s inner thoughts and became a dream scape."
Pug is the film’s precocious guide into Baltimore’s skid-marked streets. During the course of the movie, Pug grows from a fresh-faced scamp riding shotgun in Nathan’s car as they hunt down bikers, until sixty some minutes and a few years later, Pug is expertly flipping his bike into the air when he isn’t talking smack to everyone around. Watching his personality harden in response to the dangers around him is a disheartening journey, until you consider the alternatives. Said Nathan: "The dealers right outside his house would wave hundred dollar bills in front of his face, throwing it up in the air and watching them fly down to the ground."
It’s this odd dichotomy that makes 12 O’Clock Boys such an entrancing and troubling film. The maniacal stunts are a threat to pedestrians and the riders themselves — at one point a rider is shown lying unmoving on the ground and apparently dead — but there is an unmistakable grace and beauty to their movements. You can’t help but marvel at the skill that Pug and his friends wield on their bikes, while also wondering how much longer until somebody gets hurt.