12 O’Clock Boys
Directed by Lotfy Nathan
The group of the title is named for the angle its members claim they can reach with their wheelies: straight up like the hands on a clock at high noon, leaning back their dirt bikes and ATVs into perilous position as they rev en masse through the streets of Baltimore, weaving through city traffic, darting around to elude (and sometimes taunt) the cops. In this short documentary feature, director Nathan shows plenty of neighborhood and local-news concern over the public dangers posed by this activity—the police, reluctant to pursue the riders on the ground, try to corral them with the help of helicopters—while also appreciating that these stunts can be amazing to behold. Some of this footage has long since gone viral on YouTube, but the handful of slo-mo passages from the Williamsburg-based Nathan’s ride-alongs reveal a kind of grace humming beneath the one-off daredevilry. We see man in full harmony with machine, hurtling ahead while pointing skyward.
Here, that fleeting-glory aesthetic serves another purpose, since the subject of the documentary, an adolescent nicknamed Pug, dreams of one day joining the 12 O’Clock convoy on the main drag. Ignoring the increasingly stern reprimands of his mother, Pug scoots around on one set of wheels or another—adopting a new brashness after his older brother suddenly dies of an asthma attack and the family relocates from the west of the city to the east. Veteran riders argue that the coordinated vehicular disorder is a positive draw when compared with the other, more familiar forms of illegality that continue to thrive in these inner-city neighborhoods, pitching the big Sunday ride as a release; meanwhile, an officer estimates that this reckless behavior leads to the loss of 12 to 15 lives every summer. Nathan might spend most of his time getting to know the riders, but he doesn’t make a point of taking sides. Instead, he conveys quite clearly some of the reasons how and why this dirt-bike culture matters for a kid like Pug as he grows up—no mean feat in itself.
Opens January 31