“I been on this Earth for a decade, and a couple of years. That makes me a grown ass man.”
If you want to make a documentary but don’t know where to start, look for an outsider, or marginal group. So many great documentary subjects were found on the fringe, living a life that might exist in our world, but we have no idea it’s there. It’s the perfect way to make your movie instantly interesting to any viewer. So when I heard there was a documentary about African American’s in the hoods Baltimore that wasn’t taking the easy and obvious route of focusing on drugs or gang banging, I was immediately intrigued. When I saw the trailer and realised it was about hood kids obsessed with dirt bikes, I knew 12 O’Clock Boys was gonna be some awesome fringe dwelling stuff.
Following neighbourhood kid, Pug, around for three years, 12 O’Clock Boys is technically the story of this one boy, but he could easily be seen to represent an entire generation. Kicking off when he’s around 12 years old, Pug is obsessed with the local dirt bike gang who give the movie its title. They cruise the streets on their dirt bikes and four wheelers, pulling freestyle maneuvers and showing off for anyone who’ll watch. Riding their bikes on the streets is illegal, but it’s also illegal for police to chase them for safety reasons, so they’re basically untouchable.
Pug disobeys his mother, can be violent and is constantly in trouble at school, but the movie kind of makes an argument for his obsession with the dirt bikes and their owners being a good thing. It keeps him from him pursuing other, more dangerous options that kids his age growing up in these neighbourhoods might turn to. It’s a great exercise in objectivity, never condemning these people, nor romanticising them.
Bigger than the story of this niche group of Baltimore bikers. Bigger than the specific story of Pug’s coming of age. 12 O’Clock Boys is about all the things that make their life, their life. There’s Pug’s single mother, trying to raise four kids. There’s the long term 12 O’Clock Boys who truly believe they’re a positive influence on young kids like Pug, and I totally understand why they think that. There’s the story of a city ravaged by things so much more terrible than dudes on motorbikes.
There’s a lot going on, but 12 O’Clock Boys expertly uses its seemingly narrow focus on Pug to make sure it never seems like it’s trying to tackle or say too much. On the one hand, it shows a pretty dire life that these people are living in, there’s nothing glamorous about this neighbourhood or the things people need to do to survive there. But on the other, it’s a story of black kids in a poor neighbourhood that shows there’s more to their life than drugs and guns. And that’s not something you see on movie screens everyday.