A scene from 12 O'Clock Boys (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

A scene from 12 O’Clock Boys (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Filmed & Directed by Lofty Nathan
Produced by John Kassab, Eric Blair & Nathan
Released by Oscilloscope Laboratories
USA. 72 min. Not rated

Many of us can relate to the idea of riding our bikes as kids and feeling a sense of freedom. Trying to pop a wheelie, riding quickly, and skidding out are familiar experiences. What may not be as familiar is being raised in a rough, economically depressed, inner city area like Baltimore. That’s Pug’s environment. His father isn’t a part of his life, he’s got numerous siblings, and a single working mom, Coco, who struggles to keep the family afloat. Circumstances get even tougher for the 12-year-old when his only paternal figure, his older brother, passes away. The allure of the urban dirt bike group, the 12 O’Clock Boys, has always been strong but now seems all the more pertinent.

The group overwhelms Baltimore streets on Sundays with their loud and fast motorbikes and four-wheelers. They’re frightening and ominous to many as they swarm the streets, often disobeying traffic laws and pulling dangerous stunts, such as riding a bike fast while popping a wheelie. The ultimate sign of skill is being able to ride your bike as close to perpendicular (12 o’clock) as possible—thus, the name of their group. Even though they’re a nuisance to many and can cause accidents, police are instructed not to pursue them so that high-speed chases will not put the community further at risk.

Pug worships the group and sees them as near superheroes, defying authority and doing as they please. He dreams of a day where he’ll be big enough to actually handle one of the bikes and take to the streets. His mother is torn about his avid interest. On one hand, she wants to support his dreams and sees that there are worse things he could be seduced by. On the other, riding dirt bikes is a dangerous endeavor and doesn’t lead to any long-term goals. She’d much rather see him follow his love of animals and become a veterinarian. As he gets older, she supports him enough to eventually buy him a dirt bike. Pug proudly rides it around town until it gets stolen while he’s being filmed.

As an audience member, there’s a push-and-pull to the documentary that roughly translates to Coco’s feelings. With the film’s beautiful slow-motion footage of the bikers, one can certainly see the appeal and autonomy the riders must feel. However, it’s clearly dangerous and leads to accidents and occasional fatalities. During the filming, an innocent five-year-old bystander was seriously injured.

One hopes that Pug will fulfill his dream of riding with the big boys, but also that he stays in school and gets closer to becoming a veterinarian. 12 O’Clock Boys is a nicely-crafted, insider’s look at an urban subculture. It presents both sides fairly and serves as an engaging portrait of a young man on the verge of adulthood in a difficult environment. Let’s just hope he grows out of it.