Filmed over three years, Lofty Nathan’s debut feature follows the life of Pug: a young adolescent boy who dreams of joining the infamous dirt bike gang known as the 12 O’Clock Boys. Set in Baltimore, Nathan chronicles the notorious riders whose reckless actions cause major disruption to the local community and the struggling police force. The police play a game of ‘cat and mouse’, using helicopters and locating technology to pinpoint the riders. The documentary also delves beyond the dirt bike group, exploring Pug’s unstable life and his deep desire to join the daredevil riders despite his mother’s hopes of him one day becoming a veterinarian.
Nathan’s guerrilla style is quite fresh, mixing a common rural activity within the urban setting of Baltimore. The occasional shot of the hyperbolic news anchors however, emphasise that this is certainly a divided activity within the city. Nathan does not hold back in showing the ruthlessness of the riders, often cutting to swift montages of the bikers parading around town, causing havoc to the police force and the ongoing citizens. Despite it seeming like nothing more than a detestable rampage, Nathan rather accentuates it as a social tradition within Pug’s community. Watching Pug grow up (but not mature) is effectively sympathetic. We soon realise that his dream of becoming a rider is also diminishing his future options and ironically, his foul-mouthed mother, who was once a stripper, seems to be the only one realising this tragic fact.
Nathan’s use of structured slow motion is terrific, giving some much needed relief from the jumpy camera work while also allowing a moment to connect with the riders, who see riding as a way of feeling free and alive. Although the editing is commendable, the film feels divided at times, consisting of footage of the bikers causing mayhem around town but then shifting focus to Pug’s life and his motives. Both portraits are effective; however, due to its short runtime, the two stories are never fully drawn out. Considering the film was shot over the three years of Pug’s life, it seems hard to believe that the plot could be underdeveloped.
Nonetheless, it’s certainly a fascinating portrait of a society that is often unnoted in the context of the American people. Although it is depicted as a hard life, Nathan never takes sides, shifting the audience’s sympathy back and forth between Pug and the Baltimore police force, who are repeatedly bullied and scapegoated for some of the deaths of the riders. Although feeling a little underdeveloped with its 76-minute runtime, this is a strong first effort by Nathan, which at times lacks drama but ultimately never feels artificial in depicting Pug’s ambition to ride.
12 O’Clock Boys is available for rent or purchase online through Oscilloscope Laboratories.