Often times, we cling to things not just for what they can do for us but also what they say about us. The spirit of director Damon Ristau's light and fun investigation into the culture of the Volkswagen bus is far more swayed by rhetoric of the latter variety, even with numerous testimonials littered throughout The Bus pointing to the vehicle's unrivaled utilitarianism. The folks interviewed here claim to enjoy, among other things, freedom, solidarity, and self-sufficiency, all due to their fervent love for and ownership of one of the boxiest vehicles this side of a train car.
To Ristau's credit, the love is contagious. The Bus traces this miracle of German engineering from its factory origins; why yes, that is a photo of Hitler smiling unashamedly at a mockup of a VW bug, to the incredibly effective advertising campaigns of the 1960s (recently referenced in this season's premiere episode of Mad Men), which helped spread the notion that what the vehicles lacked in elegance was more than made up for via a distinctive ownership experience.
Clever graphical inventions throughout The Bus (a vignetted frame to convey the view from the driver's seat, a speedometer that shows the sales per decade, etc.) quickly and playfully relay info, keeping the pacing brisk and allowing it to always return to the backbone of the piece: its subject's love of this car/lifestyle. Speaking of love, Ristau introduces us to a couple whose very union was founded upon their affinity for the bus; she was enamored with how easily one could learn to repair them, he was drawn in by both her beauty and skills as a bus mechanic.
The film takes us on VW-powered excursions to Burning Man and other hard-to-reach locales, out on tour with a traveling musician who's been living and working in his bus for over 5 years, and beyond, really hammering home the bus equals freedom concept that so many of its subjects espouse. In its own modest way, The Bus might very well be the most sexy sales pitch ever for the American association between motor vehicles and rugged individualism. The perverse twist being that the seductive technique is piled upon inducing adoration for a decades old box on wheels.
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