Take it to the Limit

Thirty years later, the producer remembers the film that captured racing history

By Peter Starr, Photography by From the Peter Starr collection

The only musician who actually appeared in the film was folk balladeer Arlo Guthrie. He actually rode his motorcycle around the beautiful country lanes of his home in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, even though it was still winter and quite cold when we filmed this sequence. Guthrie recorded a very special version of his "Motorcycle Song" for which we created an equally unique "clay-mation" piece that originally paved the way for the film, much like cartoons used to precede movies. Unfortunately, in our marketing screenings that came before the release of the movie, no one understood why it was there. So the cartoon got shortened and relegated to the back of the film, and became part of the credits. I still think it was a great idea, brilliantly executed by animation expert Jon Wokuluk, and I will include the complete 5-minute version on the eventual anniversary release of the DVD.

My memories of that shoot and those days are many and colorful, and I have always been grateful for what my film crew achieved. To have made a feature film and had it shown across the country in theaters, let alone win major film festivals, is an accomplishment the likes of which are hard to communicate. To have brought this film to life with some of the icons of that era is perhaps the most rewarding achievement of my career.

I was asked recently what were my feelings about the movie's success, or as some would see it, lack of such. That's as tough a question as I have ever faced. Making the movie, and breaking new barriers to bring it to the big screen, still brings me that warm inner feeling of a job well done. Accepting the awards when the film was honored at the Houston (silver) and Chicago (gold) International Film Festivals gave me a sense that my filmmaking career had truly arrived, and that Hollywood would be beating a path to my door. That never happened, in large part because of the ungodly legal mess left when the distribution company, in whom I had placed an inordinate amount of trust, dropped the ball and stole the money. This is sadly not unique. Hollywood is rife with stories of independent films and their makers being chewed up and spat out by "the system."

Thirty years on, I am looking at showing the movie in cinemas one more time, this time as a fundraiser for prostate cancer. After that, it will get a very special digital treatment before a DVD release. I have gone back and interviewed many who appeared in the film to add a retrospective look at those stars who were the backbone and attitude of Take it to the Limit.

It has certainly been a very strange and complicated road, both during production of the film and since. It does give me a sense of pride, however guarded, to know that there have only been two films of this genre that have enjoyed wide cinema distribution, and that Take it to the Limit was one of them. Given what I have learned, would I like to make a sequel? You betcha!

By Peter Starr
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