From an interview with “Mr A”, executive producer and co-creator of the Getaway in Stockholm (GiS) films:
Mr A: Yeah, when I tell my girlfriend, ‘You should watch this, it’s good, it’s a classic, it’s an old movie’ and she thinks it’s, like, the worst. And when I actually look at it and it is the worst, it is just a car chase … [Laughs] But you have to look a lot harder, to how it is filmed, you have to learn … Because, you can’t watch car racing for instance, because they are lousy at filming; you get no sensation of speed. If you watch the World Rally Championship it looks like they go two miles an hour. The hardest thing [of the whole thing] is capturing the speed …
I want to engage with the notion of “speed” in terms of the necessary affects of automobility, but first I will give some brief background information on the Getaway in Stockholm series of films. Most of the information on the films is derived from the interview with Mr A carried out over dinner in Stockholm, October 2004. Contact was made via e-mail and I organised with the editors of Autosalon Magazine for an edited transcription to be published as an incentive to participate in the interview.
Mr A’s “Tarantino-style” name is necessary because the films he makes with Mr X (co-creator) and a small unnamed group of others involve filming highly illegal acts: one or two cars racing through the streets of Stockholm evading police at sustained speeds well over 200 km/h. Due to a quirk in Swedish traffic law, unless they are caught within a certain time frame of committing driving offences or they actually admit to the driving offences, then they cannot be charged. The Swedish police are so keen to capture these renegade film makers that when they appeared on Efterlyst (pron: ef-de-list; the equivalent of “Sweden’s Most Wanted”) instead of the normal toll-free 1-800 number that viewers could phone to give tips, the number on the screen was the direct line to the chief of Stockholm’s traffic unit.
The original GiS film (2000) was made as a dare. Mr A and some friends had just watched Claude Lelouch’s 1976 film C’était un Rendez-vous. Rumour has it that Lelouch had a ten-minute film cartridge and had seen how a gyro stabilised camera worked on a recent film. He decided to make use of it with his Ferrari. He mounted the camera to the bonnet and raced through the streets of Paris. In typical Parisian style at the end of the short nine minute film the driver parks and jumps from the Ferrari to embrace a waiting woman for their “rendezvous”. Shortly after watching the film someone said to Mr A, “you don’t do that sort of thing in Stockholm”. Mr A and Mr X set out to prove him wrong. Nearly all the equipment used in the filming of the first GiS film was either borrowed or stolen. The Porsche used in the film (like all the cars in the films) was lent to them. The film equipment consisted of, in Mr A’s words, a “big ass” television broadcast camera and a smaller “lipstick” camera stolen from the set of the world’s first “interactive” reality TV show called The Bar. (The Bar followed a group of people who all lived together in an apartment and also worked together in a bar. The bar was a “real” bar and served actual customers.)
The first film was made for fun, but after Mr A and his associates received several requests for copies they decided to ramp up production to commercial levels. Mr A has a “real job” working in advertising; making the GiS films once a year is his main job with his advertising job being on a self-employed, casual basis. As a production team it is a good example of amateurs becoming semi-professionals within the culture industries. The GiS production team distributes one film per year under the guise of being a “documentary” which allows them to escape the wrath of Swedish authorities due to further legal quirks. Although they still sell DVDs from their Website, the main source of income comes from the sale of the worldwide distribution rights to British “powersports” specialist media company Duke Video. Duke also sells a digitally remastered DVD version of Rendezvous on their Website. As well as these legitimate distribution methods, copies of all six GiS films and Rendezvous are available on the internet through various peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. Mr A says there isn’t much he can do about online file sharing besides asking people to support the franchise if they like the films by buying the DVDs.
There are a number of groups making films for car enthusiast using similar guerilla film production methods. However, most of the films are one-offs or do not involve cars driven at such radical speeds. An exception was another Swedish film maker who called himself “Ghostrider” and who produced similar films using a motorbike. Police apprehended a man who they alleged is “Ghostrider” in mid-2004 within the requisite timeframe of an offence that had been allegedly committed. The GiS films alongside these others exist within the automotive cultural industry. The automotive cultural industry is a term I am using to describe the overlap between the automotive industry and the cultural industries of popular culture. The films tap in to a niche market of car enthusiasts. There are many different types of car enthusiasts, everything from petite-bourgeois vintage-car restorers to moral panic-inducing street racers.
Obviously the GiS films are targeted more towards the street racing end of the spectrum, which is not surprising because Sweden has a very developed underground street racing scene. A good example is the Stockholm-based “Birka Cup”: a quasi-professional multi-round underground street-racing tournament with 60,000 SEK (approx. AUD$11,000) prize money. The rules and rankings for the tournament are found on the tournament Website. To give some indication of what goes on at these events a short teaser video clip for the 2003 Birka Cup DVD is also available for download from the Website.
The GiS films have an element of the exotic European-Other about them, not only because of the street-racing pedigree exemplified by the Birka Cup and similar underground social institutions (such as another event for “import” street racers called the “Stockholm Open”), but because they capture an excess within European car culture normally associated with exotic supercars or the extravagant speeds of cars driven on German autobahns or Italian autostradas. For example, the phrase “European Styling” is often used in Australia to sell European designed “inner-city” cars, such as the GM Holden Barina, a.k.a. the Vauxhall Corsa or the Opel Corsa. Cars from other regional manufacturing zones often do not receive such a specific regional identification; for example, cars built in Asian countries are described as “fully imported” rather than “Asian styling”. Tom O’Dell has noted that dominant conception of automobility in Sweden is different to that of the US. That is, “automobility” needs to be qualified with a national or local context and I assume that other national contexts in Europe would equally be just as different. However, in non-European, mainly post-colonial contexts, such as Australia, the term “European” is an affectation signaling something special.
On a different axis, “excess” is directly expressed in the way the police are “captured” in the GiS films. Throughout the GiS series there is a strongly antagonist relation to the police. The initial pre-commercial version of the first GiS film had NWA’s “Fuck the Police” playing over the opening credits. Subsequent commercially-released versions of the film had to change the opening title music due to copyright infringement issues. The “bonus footage” material of subsequent DVDs in the series represents the police as impotent and foolish. Mr A describes it as a kind of “prank” played on police. His rationale is that they live out the fantasy that “everyone” wishes they could do to the police when they are pulled over for speeding and the like; as he puts it, “flipping the bird and driving off”. The police are rendered foolish and captured on film, which is an inversion of the normative traffic-cop-versus-traffic-infringer power relation. Mr A specifies the excess of European modernity to something specific to automobility, which is the near-universal condition of urbanity in most developed nations.
The antagonism between the GiS drivers and the police is figured as a duel. The speed of the car(s) obviously exceeds what is socially and legally acceptable and therefore places the drivers in direct conflict with police. The speed captured on film is in part a product of this tension and gives speed a qualitative cultural dimension beyond a simple notion from rectilinear physics of speed as a rate of motion. The qualitative dimension of speed as been noted by Peter Wollen:
Speed is not simply thrilling in itself, once sufficiently accelerated, but also enables us to enter exposed and unfamiliar situations, far removed from the zones of safety and normality – to travel into space, for instance, beyond the frontiers of the known. (106)
Knowledge is subsumed by the dialect of road safety: “safety” versus “speed”. Knowledge takes on many forms and it is here that speed gains its complexity. In the high-school physics of rectilinear motion speed refers to a rate. Mr A discusses speed as a sensation (“thrill” in the language of Wollen) in the quote at the beginning of the essay. If the body develops sensations from affects and percepts (Deleuze and Guattari 179-83), then what are the affects and percepts that are developed by the body into the sensation of speed?
The catchphrase for the GiS films is “Reality Beats Fiction By Far!” The “reality” at stake here is not only the actuality of cars traveling at high speeds within urban spaces, which in the vernacular of automotive popular culture is more “real” than Hollywood representations, but the “reality” of automobilised bodies engaging with and “getting away” from the police. Important here is that the police serve as the symbolic representatives of the governmental institutions and authorities that regulate and discipline populations to be automobilised road users. The police are principally symbolic because one’s road-user body is policed, to a large degree, by one’s self; that is, by the perceptual apparatus that enables us to judge traffic’s rates of movement and gestures of negotiation that are indoctrinated into habit. We do this unthinkingly as part of everyday life. What I want to suggest is that the GiS films tap into the part of our respective bodily perceptual and affective configurations that allow us to exist as road users. To explain this I need to go on a brief detour through “traffic” and its relation to “speed”.
Speed serves a functional role within automobilised societies. Contrary to the dominant line from the road safety industry, the “speed limit” we encounter everyday on the road is not so much a limit, but a guide for the self-organisation of traffic. To think the “speed limit” as a limit allows authorities to imagine a particular movement-based threshold of perception and action that bestows upon drivers the ability to negotiate the various everyday hazard-events that constitute the road environment. This is a negative way to look at traffic and is typical of the (post)modernist preoccupation with incorporating contingency (“the accident”) into behavioural protocol and technical design (Lyotard 65-8). It is not surprising that the road safety industry is an exemplary institution of what Gilles Deleuze called the “control society”. The business of the road safety industry is the perpetual modulation of road user populations in a paradoxical attempt to both capture (forecast and study) the social mechanics of the accident-event while postponing its actualisation.
Another way to look at traffic is to understand it as a self-organising system. Ilya Prigogine and Robert Herman modeled vehicle traffic as two flows – collective and individual – as a function of the concentration and speed of vehicles. At a certain tipping point the concentration of traffic is such that individual mobility is subsumed by the collective. Speed plays an important role both in the abstract sense of a legislated “speed limit” and as the emergent consistency of mobile road users distributed in traffic. That is, automotive traffic does not move at a constant speed, but nominally moves at a consistent speed.
The rate and rhythms of traffic have a consistency that we all must become familiar with to successfully negotiate the everyday system of automobility. For example, someone simply walking becomes a “pedestrian” in the duration of automobilised time-space. Pedestrians must embody a similar sense of the rate of traffic as that perceived by drivers in the cars that constitute traffic. The pedestrian uses this sense of speed when negotiating traffic so as to cross the road, while the driver uses it to maintain a safe distance from the car in front and so on. The shared sense of speed demands an affective complicity of road-user bodies to allow them to seamlessly incorporate themselves into the larger body of traffic on a number of different registers. When road users do not comply with this shared sense of speed that underpins traffic they are met with horn blasts, rude figure gestures, abuse, violence and so on. The affects of traffic are accelerated in the body and developed by the body into the sensations and emotions of “road rage”. Road users must performatively incorporate the necessary dispositions for participating with other road users in traffic otherwise they disrupt the affective script (“habits”) for the production of traffic.
When I screened the first GiS film in a seminar in Sweden the room was filled with the sound of horrified gasps. Afterwards someone suggested to me that they (the Swedes) were more shocked than I (an Australian) about the film. Why? Is it because I am a “hoon”? We had all watched the same images heard the same sounds, yet, the “speeds” were not equal. They had experienced the streets in the film as a part of traffic. Their bodies knew just how slow the car was meant to be going. The film captured and transmitted the affects of a different automobilised body. Audiences follow the driver “getting away” from those universally entrusted (at least on a symbolic level) with the governance of traffic – the police – while, for a short period, becoming a new body that gets away from the “practiced perception” (Massumi 189) of habits that normatively enable the production of traffic. What is captured in the film – the event of the getaway – has the potential to develop in the body of the spectator as the sensation of “speed” and trigger a getaway of the body.
I would like to acknowledge the generous funding from the Centre for Cultural Research and the College of Arts, Education and Social Sciences, University of Western Sydney, in awarding me the 2004 CCR CAESS Postgraduate International Scholarship, and the support from my colleagues at the Advanced Cultural Studies Institute of Sweden where I carried out this research as a doctoral exchange student.