To some, the new film Brick Mansions is notable as one of the final projects starring recently-deceased actor Paul Walker. Others know of it as a remake of the French film District B13. Or, you might not be familiar with it at all, given the somewhat muted promotional push. Like the original, the movie acts as a showcase for parkour, the physical discipline of getting from one point to another as quickly as possible, often utilizing impressive acrobatic techniques. But if you want better examples of the sport in action, then it’s best to turn to a documentary. After all, the stunts in these nonfiction films aren’t performed by doubles and there’s no safety apparatuses in play. That’s much more in the true spirit of parkour.
While Hollywood generally sees parkour as a means to an action scene end, there is in fact a philosophy behind it, and each of these docs get into that to one degree or another. Jump London, a 2003 film widely credited with causing an explosion in popularity for the sport in the UK, didn’t appeal to youth just because of the cool tricks. Its message of reclaiming locomotion in an era dominated by traffic jams pushes traceurs, the French practitioners of the form, as true free spirits. Seeing them bound around famous London landmarks is absolutely exhilarating. That theme is continued in the film’s 2005 sequel, Jump Britain, which follows the traceurs to new places all over the country.
Watch Jump London in full below, care of director Mike Christie. He also uploaded the sequel here.
A more recent and more American take on the subject is 2012’s People in Motion, which travels the west coast to survey different freerunners in action. While there’s an eye-rolling layer of pretension layered onto the doc (a lot of silly soliloquizing about society and human nature), it’s worth it for some truly stunning photography. The filmmakers’ “easy time lapse” trick catches multiple stages of movement even as the subject continues to move, providing a wonderful study of athleticism and motion.
Watch this one in full via director Cedric Dahl below.
There are more docs about parkour out there as well. Four shorts by Flow, the Parkour Kommunity, are collected here — their titles are Gravitation; AirWipp’s Parkour Gym; How Training Evolves; and Parkour and Longevity.
Another from 2009, titled Point B, can be seen in full via its website.
Like Jump London/Britain and People in Motion, they are low-budget, independent affairs. Which seems like the only appropriate medium for the sport. A glossy, big budget film about parkour would feel off, not in the outlaw spirit of parkour, whose practitioners routinely break civil trespassing laws. Anything that Brick Mansions says about the parkour lifestyle can really only be lip service. Hollywood stars are not the ideal vectors for anything that’s legitimately challenging to the establishment.
None of that is to badmouth the late Paul Walker, who surely put all he had into his last full performance on film (his part in the next Fast & Furious movie will be partially filled in by his brothers). It’s just that a whitebread, all-American hunk is not really the face of parkour. To see that, you’ll need to look somewhat under the radar. These docs are a good place to start doing so.