I’m not a student of movie making, so I can’t tell you much about the cinematography in Scott Di Lalla and Zack Coffman’s latest “documentary,” Brittown. But I am a classic bike fan, British bikes being right up there on my radar, and I can tell you something about their latest film’s subject, Jeff Tulunius, aka, Meatball. He is, as the British might say, a “nutter.”
That’s not to say anything bad, mind you, it’s just true. The basic premise of the film is simple: Follow Meatball, an apparently self-taught vintage bike mechanic, as he restores the engine on his 1971 Triumph Bonneville, a bike he hopes will peg the speedo at 157mph. That’s the speed his hero, Triumph racer Gene Romero (a poster of Romero graces Meatball’s shop), hit in qualifying for the 1971 Daytona 200. (Romero didn’t win; that would come later, in 1975.) That, and witness whatever else happens in between.
Meatball kind of irritated me at first. I looked at him as just another old-school-wanna-be, a guy throwing himself back in time because he doesn’t have the imagination to work with the present. Maybe there’s some truth in that, but on second thought I realized he’s a pretty compelling character, completely immersed in his craft and his passions. It’s not an act, it’s his life. He sings vocals in a retro-themed punk/alt/rock band, Smiling Face Down, lives in an old house with a shop packed full of Triumphs and BSAs, drives a battered old Triumph TR3 when he drives at all, has his own gang, The No Gooders, and otherwise does nothing but build and ride old British iron.
Meatball pretty much never stops, except when things aren’t going well on his engine build. Otherwise he’s out riding; dirt, road, race — it doesn’t matter, as long as he’s riding. The film’s opening scene has Meatball and pals romping across the desert on their old Desert Sleds in kind of a On Any Sunday tribute. Then it’s a run in the Elsinore Grand Prix, then Willow Springs, then another track, all of it interspersed with glimpses of the rest of his life including his wife, Rose, the rock band and parties at the house as the bike build nears completion.
Brittown is Di Lalla and Coffman’s second biker documentary, the first being 2005’s Choppertown (sense a trend here?), which followed California biker gang The Sinners. Although that flick wasn’t our cup of tea, Brittown is a lot closer. So does Meatball ever hit his magic mark? Oddly enough, we never find out. More info at www.brittown.com. MC