I keep a list of my all-time 107 favorite movies and Breaking Away is number 14, but that is only because they are listed alphabetically. If I limited the list to movies about bicycling, it would rank number one. At our house, the popularity of Breaking Away spans three generations. My Dad and my father-in-law love it, as does my daughter Zoe. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen the movie and know most of the lines by heart.
As part of this year’s Eroica California, I got to watch the movie again at the Fremont Theater in San Luis Obispo, California. The audience was packed with cyclists, including a couple wearing “Cutters” t-shirts, and a few Japanese fans. The star actor, Dennis Christopher was there for a reception and Q & A following the movie. Hearing him talk gave me some insight into how the movie was made.
Christopher was originally cast as Cyril (played by Daniel Stern), but after Christopher read in Italian during rehearsal, he was given the lead role.
Christopher said that the movie was originally titled, “Bambino,” and the way the script was originally penned, it was more a movie about an American kid wanting to be Italian to pick up girls in clubs (sort of like Saturday Night Fever), than a movie about family and cycling. Christopher says that he talked the director into changing the script—arguing that part of Dave Stoller’s motivation for wanting to be Italian because he was an only child and wanted a bigger family. Wardrobe had gathered a bunch of “Guido” clothes, which no longer worked with the changed script, so they flew Dennis Christopher’s actual clothes to the set for him to wear during filming.
In the racing scene where the Italians stick a pump in the spokes of Dave’s bike, the stunt man falls on a mattress buried on the road shoulder. The pump was actually a lead pipe painted to look like a Silca. There was a wire attached to the bike’s fork so the bike stuntman could be pulled to fall in the right spot. The scene had to be filmed twice.
As for Dennis Christopher’s cycling training for the movie, he mostly observed and mimicked the posture, facial expressions, and handling skills of a professional rider that had been hired as a consultant. The two rode side by side to prepare for the cycling scenes, but not until Christopher made it to Indiana. Christopher was stuck finishing another movie and was two-weeks late getting to the Breaking Away set in Bloomington. He said he kept getting boxes sent to him, including a Masi bicycle, while he was still working on the set of the other film.
I’ve always considered the film a quintessential coming-of-age story for the four young men at the center of the story, but Christopher elaborated on this idea, saying that “all of the characters grow up, including Dave’s parents.”
The day after the screening, Dennis Christopher came to the Eroica event we generously signed some movie stills (see photos above) and memorabilia for me at the Masi tent in Paso Robles.