“The biker culture escapes them”

Jeff Nichols, director of “The Bikeriders”, in Berlin, June 6, 2024. MATTHIAS NAREYEK/GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

After a flying start (five films in nine years, including the acclaimed Take Shelter), Jeff Nichols’ career seemed to be at a standstill: no news since Loving (2016). Projects that are stalling, a reputation that is slipping… The American returns with The Bikeriders, which sees a gang of bikers descend into violence at the turn of the 1970s. While passing through Paris, the 45-year-old filmmaker tells World his return to the track.

Since when have you been interested in the biker scene?

To be honest, it put me off for a long time. Until, two years after the end of my cinema studies, in 2003, my brother Ben offered me The Bikeriders. This is a book that photographer Danny Lyon dedicated, in 1968, to the Outlaws, a famous motorcycle club from the Midwest. I was struck by the contrast between the images of Lyon, very romantic, and the interviews he carried out with the different members of the group, sometimes cruel, sometimes funny, sometimes rough, always honest. Like a precipitate of the American proletariat.

Have you met them?

No. On my previous film, LovingI learned the hard way that people tend to rewrite their story after a certain period of time.

And Danny Lyon?

Yes, we saw each other in 2014. My brother Ben is a member of the punk rock band Lucero. He had approached Danny to illustrate the cover of one of his albums and put us in touch. Danny invited me to his house in New Mexico. He gave me access, with immense generosity, to all his sound and photographic archives.

How did you convince him?

I told him that the bikers were, in my opinion, representative of the way in which misfits, when they come together, become affected and caricatured versions of themselves. It’s a cycle I observed in the punk scene in Little Rock, Arkansas, where I grew up.

When did you become aware of this aporia?

I played drums in a really bad band. My friends and I were driven by a feeling of rebellion, breaking with dominant social norms. This music defined us, it was ours, it was us. Then we realized that we weren’t the only ones listening to her, that she was part of a much larger scene across the country. It’s a feeling similar to that experienced by motorcyclists in The Bikeriders : their culture escapes them.

Hollywood helped make the biker a 20th century mythologye century. Is your film, which refers to “L’Equipée sauvage” (1953) and “Easy Rider” (1969), part of this lineage?

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