In the words of viewers:
“I watched the movie last night and loved it. Hollywood could take a few lessons from you guys!”
“I think you guys really nailed it in terms of what a motorcycle trip is all about and why we love to ride.”
–Peter, Bend, Oregon
“Your movie makes me want to let out on the bike right now and never come back.”
-Jesse, Victor, Montana
“My 20-year-old son (who also rides) and I watched The Best Bar in America this evening. Wow! We were more than entertained; we were moved.”
“I’ve been riding bikes my whole life, and traveled the world over and have read just about everything I could ever put my hands on, and this is the best damn movie/writing I have seen in many a year. Kurasowa, Kerouac, Hemingway and Pirsig have come together in this man’s heart and soul and given us one hell of a movie…One to keep, to be sure. Well done sir….well done!
“Loved it. Great job.”
From Cycle World, November, 2013
The Best Bar in America
Whiskey, cash, a sidecar, weapons and one epic beard
Motorcycle enthusiasts are not often treated well in the theaters of America. There have been some good motorcycles films, sure, but usually movie people get bikes so wrong it’s painful.
Not so with The Best Bar in America, written, shot and directed by brothers Damon and Eric Ristau, whose previous experience was on documentaries and commercials. Despite being an ultra-low-budget independent film, or maybe because of it, Best Bar is a very engaging road flick with an epically bearded lead character named Sanders (played by Andrew Rizzo), a writer who is touring the great spaces of the American West riding a 1960 BMW R60/2 with a Velorex sidecar. His assignment? Writing a guide to the bars of the West.
Sanders is a troubled veteran who suffers a host of personal losses, but in these, he finds a freedom, which is exemplified by one of the early scenes in which his wife, traveling in the sidecar, decides to leave him.
That is the distinct moment when all Sanders’ worldly obligations have been shed. From there, he sets out on his spiritual journey and rediscovers the elemental joys of riding, writing and, yes, drinking. Northway, played by Hollywood veteran David Ackroyd, becomes his guide and traveling partner after they meet in a tavern.
“Northway was based on a guy actually named Northway we met in a Missoula bar who was living in a camper van,” says Eric Ristau. “Northway was a wise, incredible guy with a long, white beard and missing a few teeth. We spent the whole night in the bar hanging out with him.”
They ran into Northway a week later. His van had been stolen, so the brothers invited this sage barfly to live with them. After a month, he got his things back and hit the road. They never saw him again. “He had emphysema and passed away,” says Ristau.
“A lot of stuff we learned from him ended up in the script. He was a guy who was really in the moment. He knew he was on his last legs and was having a great time where he was, enjoying everything. He gravitated toward people who were marginalized, and it helped us feel more open to the folks we’d associate with, people who had a story, wisdom and things we can learn from. Northway was just an enlightened guy.”
Shot in 93 days with a budget “less than a nice, new Harley,” the film never only had a crew larger than seven when a few film-industry friends helped out for a couple of weeks.
“We didn’t pay anybody,” says Ristau. “Most of the budget went into fuel, food and lodging. And the bar bills were just obscene. We had to buy everybody a drink while we were shooting, and we shot at 64 bars. We spent more money on booze than gasoline, and we went almost 10,000 miles.”
The film truly was a community effort with some real serendipity. Like, for example, when they were wondering where they’d find the lead actor. “When I moved to a house in Missoula,” relates Ristau, “a neighbor told me there was an actor from New York living across the street. So, I knock on his door, and there’s the beard. Rizzo’s a really magnetic guy, and he’s in. It was that kind of weird stuff all along, like, ‘Oh, by the way, a guy I know has an R60 he’ll rent to you for six months for a dollar.’”
The Best Bar in America has some rough patches, like life. But in its roughness lies its charm and authenticity. And it beautifully captures the essence, purity and simplicity of traveling on a motorcycle, particularly in some of the gorgeous shots on the road.
“Even if it failed as a movie, we were going to have a hell of a good time making it,” says Ristau with a laugh. The good times show in the finished product. Visit bestbarinamerica.com to buy a copy.
From Back Street Heroes Motorcycle Magazine in the UK:
THE BEST BAR IN AMERICA, by Blue Miller
Riding a motorcycle across the western states of the USA, drinking whiskey in the name of writing a guide book to all the bars and taverns of the West, well, that has to be a dream gig, right? Except, by the time that his BMW combination pulls to the side of an Arizona highway in the opening shots of ‘The Best Bar in America’, writer and main character Sanders (played by Andrew Rizzo, although frequently out-acted by his beard) has realised that it’s a poisoned chalice, and one out of which he’s drinking Wild Turkey, whether he’s in a bar or not.
Several years in the making, brothers Damon and Eric Ristau have just released their first film on DVD, and a cracking road movie it is, too. They wrote it, filmed it, directed and financed it, corralled family members into helping, drove camera cars and even wrangled scorpions! The story is fairly simple; man hits rock bottom, meets some people who’ve already been there, finally listens to them rather than himself and, like the mermaids in the Sip ‘n’ Dip bar (a real establishment in Great Falls, Montana), floats back to the surface and into the light. Along the way, he meets Northway, a bar-room philosopher with the sagacity to laugh at himself – David Ackroyd as Northway steals the picture with a wry performance suggesting that, despite the budget (no-one on the film was paid anything other than expenses), he was having rather a good time.
Any movie featuring both motorcycles and the open road will invite comparisons with ‘Easy Rider’, and there are several nods to the seminal 1969 picture. Sanders removes his watch and shoots it to pieces in an echo of Peter Fonda throwing away his Rolex. The Easy Rider cemetery scene is referenced when Sanders finds himself in Ketchum, Idaho, drunkenly talking to the grave of Ernest Hemingway, and, like Wyatt and Billy, Sanders and Northway are run out of a hick town by locals in a pick-up truck. There’s a good amount of campfire ideology and Sanders even finds himself with a bike, quite literally, full of money although, unlike in Easy Rider, it’s not in the fuel tank and he doesn’t know it’s there. But The Best Bar in America is pleasingly free of the woolly, verbose, hippy 1960s rhetoric that framed not only Easy Rider, but other contemporary films. It treats the gun-toting bartenders and toothless drinkers with affection and respect, whereas Easy Rider saw these people as reactionary rednecks, The Best Bar in America realises that they just want to protect their own little world, their little piece of freedom, even if it is bordered by wood veneer walls and lit by neon beer advertisements.
Sanders’ modified BMW R60/2 and Jawa chair sails through the majestic landscape of Montana, Utah and Idaho as if it was to be part of those vistas. Few other bikes feature – the only other rider Sanders encounters on the road is an unnamed character on a Z1000. But a road movie is only as good as the road and, in the case of The Best Bar in America, it’s spectacular. Shot on a single high-definition camera over thousands of miles, it’s cinematography that makes you want to go out, buy an outfit and head north. It’s the road movie as Western, the tarmac as the new plains and the motorcycle as galloping horse. And, as cliché-ridden as that may sound, it works.
The continuity lapses at times and there are a couple of geographical anomalies, but it really doesn’t matter. It’s a film about people and people are fallible. The Best Bar in America is a love story, but not the obvious one that it might appear. It’s not about love for whiskey or bars or women or even motorcycles. It’s about the Ristau brothers’ love of Montana and its magnetic draw which pulls the film forward. It’s a long way from Hollywood and it’s to its credit that The Best Bar in America will stay in the mind long after many studio films from California are long forgotten.