Short of the Week

The Wall of Death

A daredevil family keeps a visceral form of entertainment alive in this beautiful black and white documentary.

Every day Ken Fox and his two sons are seen riding motorbikes around the TV screens of millions of British homes on BBC One.

If you asked any Brit who Ken Fox is, however, most wouldn’t have a clue. Fox, as this film’s narrator, tells the story of his life’s work—The Wall of Death. This death-defying motorcycle stunt involves riding the inside walls of a giant wooden barrel, the audience peering down from above as the riders perform ever-more daring tricks. Death lurks in the background through the film giving it a melancholic undercurrent that’s arresting from the opening scene. The sense of impending tragedy is gripping, leaving the viewer as tense as the crowd at the funfair watching the bikers.

“There’s many, many things that can bring you off,” Fox says of riding the wall. Hazards include punctured tires, chain breaks, and engine seizure. “There are only two things that keep you on: centrifugal force and the friction of the rubber on the wood.”

Meanwhile, the backing singer whines “I don’t want to leave you with a broken heart.” As I watched, I was waiting for the tragedy to take place. Within minutes of watching I’d come to love the daredevil riders. I didn’t want to see an accident.

In making this film, director Benedict Campbell fulfils a childhood dream, and it is a film about a man who loves his work. Fox lives by hunting down his passion. “I believe that I’m one of the few lucky people on earth that do what they want to do,” Fox says. Dreams are often rooted in the past, and this is a film tinged with all the nostalgia of a dying trade. Campbell augments this feeling with his cuts between black and white shots.

Aided by Campbell’s camera work and editing, Fox shows his daredevil riding is not a tacky amusement park thrill, but an 80 year old an art form. This is a film made with love and attention about a stuntman who conducts his work with love and attention.

David is a storyteller, dreamer, vagabond and writer based in Swansea, Wales. He traveled the world hunting for a damn good story and discovered brilliant stories are everywhere. To brighten your day with more storytelling goodness you can (and should) follow David @davidgmasters
  • Anonymous

    So good! A great choice. I was very fortunate to work with Benedict Campbell back in the 90′s. Now I wish I had learnt more from him.