Film students and The Bicycle Thief


The current generation of young people grew up in a very different world from us older folks. There has always been an Internet. Everybody is accessible by mobile phone. Cars have always had power windows. (Which reminds me of a story of a friend of mine who has an older-model car and was giving a ride to an eight-year-old relative. The youngster pointed at the window crank and asked, “What’s this?” Upon learning its purpose, the young passenger spent the remainder of the trip opening and closing the window, giggling with glee. “You know, most people pay extra so they don’t have to do that.”)

But it’s not just elementary school children whose views of the world are different.

Some time ago, I was at a dinner where another guest was a film professor at the local university. In one class, they were discussing the classic movie Ladri di Biciclette (The Bicycle Thief in the United States), the story of a poor man in post-war Italy searching for his stolen bicycle, the bicycle he needs for his job. One student asked, “Why doesn’t he just buy another bicycle?”

Comments (41)
  1. Falcon says:

    I can raise and lower my window (possibly) faster than some power window systems!

    Oh, and steer around roundabouts using one hand without power steering (mid-to-large sedan with 6cyl engine, so there’s a bit of weight on the front tyres).

  2. CmraLvr2 says:

    My kids take all that and more for granted as merely their due.  It’s funny; It makes me want to start a Monty Python-ish "In my day…"

  3. Josh says:

    If you want to feel older, my dad confiscated my copy of Doom 2 for similar reasons.  And I’ve been working as a programmer for ~5 years.

  4. oscarspaz says:

    In a deconstruction, reconstruction – social re-engineering world, the only context left is now.

  5. zmx says:

    This reminds me an old story of an ignorant King in ancient China. An official reported to him that people were starving due to lack of grains. He replied: "Why don’t they eat meat (like I do)?"

  6. Random832 says:

    I’ve occasionally wished I had non-power windows – usually in the winter where it’s iced shut and the wimpy electric motor doesn’t have enough torque to break it. Whenever I make this observation though, I’m reminded that odds are equally good that the mechanisms would break (or gradually wear out) if more torque is applied.

  7. A few months ago I told my children, they were born in the 1980’s and I was born in the 1940’s, that if they were to back in time to when I grew up, that that would be the equivalent to going to a foreign country today. They almost believed me!

  8. dave says:

    When I were a lad, Dave Cutler could write an operating system in less than 16 Kwords !

  9. Neil (SM) says:

    My almost-ten-years-old econobox has crank windows and manual locks too.   I was actually happy to get them at the time because one of those items always seemed to break in my previous cars.

    Now that I’m thinking about it, it didn’t help — the manual window mechanism actually broke in my car at one point.  Was still under warranty then though.

  10. Dave O says:

    I think you got two of the three things that have changed lives completely since I was a kid (the internet, mobile phones, and computer games, I reckon). Compared to the late 19th and early 20th century, though, the changes are relatively small – in our grandparents’ lives, the changes are things like world war, smallpox, penicillin, cars and electricity!

  11. Joshua Muskovitz says:

    I feel old. My first dual-floppy drive was IEEE-488 based. (And it cost $1200!)

    Of course, they were modern 5 1/4" drives, not those old 8" S-100 dinosaurs… ;-D

  12. Not your father's Windows says:

    There is a passage somewhat along these lines (the university bit) in Lionel Trilling’s story "Of this Time, of This Place", as I recall.

    But I’m old enough to have seen seat belts come in, and manual chokes, ashtrays, and oh, I guess curb feelers go out. So it works both ways.

  13. dennis says:

    "I’ve occasionally wished I had non-power windows – usually in the winter where it’s iced shut and the wimpy electric motor doesn’t have enough torque to break it."

    This is a good sign that you live in a place that’s too bloody cold! ;-)

  14. Paul Betts says:

    Actually, that’s the original US title and was a translation error – the corrected title of the film is "Bicycle Thieves" (which newer releases list it as); it’s pretty central to the meaning of the film that it be plural, you’ll see why should one ever watch it (and I highly recommend doing so).

  15. "Let then eat cake", eh? Personally, I can’t figure out how people got by in the days before colour.

  16. peterchen says:

    "I can’t figure out how people got by in the days before colour."

    Yeah couldn’t even have cars, because they didn’t have traffic lights!


    My old geezer story, back from when Civ 2 was new. Two boys, around 12, in the store, one holding up a box of the original Civilizaiton (I)  shouting in excitement "Look! Civilization for only ten marks!" The other boy, not to be moved, looks at the box, wrinkling his nose, saying in dismissal "that’s just an imitation".

  17. Tom says:

    It’s too bad that the photographs didn’t also turn into color when the rest of the world did.

    There’s a site, shorpy.com, that often posts large-format Kodachromes from the 1930s.  Most of them have at least one comment from a visitor who accuses the site owner of Photoshopping in the color.

    That’s the opposite phenomenon — to think that everything must be a recent invention, because the past was so primitive.

  18. Bob says:

    @Dominic Cronin:  Actually, life was easier before color.  No worrying whether your tie clashed with your shirt.  Fall was less fun, though, because the leaves just turned a slightly different shade of grey.  And don’t get me started about rainbows.

    (Actually, I was born after color, but we did have a B/W TV for most of my childhood.)

  19. Adam V says:

    @peterchen: After seeing my friend play Civ 1, I asked my dad if we could get it. The next day he came home and told me "I went to the store and looked at the box. We can’t run the game, it requires EGA graphics." We only had a CGA monitor. I was heartbroken.

  20. configurator says:

    Dominic, I thought they always had colors. Are you telling me the sky wasn’t always blue and the grass was not always green?

  21. Tom says:

    configurator: You need to see the Calvin and Hobbes comic.  It’ll answer all your questions.

  22. William C Bonner says:

    A friend’s father used to by pickup trucks for his business, a commercial stockyard.  He always made sure to get vehicles with manual window cranks.  His stated reason was that if you were stuck in a ditch that started to fill with water, you could get the manual window down, and abandon the vehicle.  With an electric window it’s quite possible that the electrical system would not work by the time you decided to abandon the vehicle.

    My understanding as to why nearly all cars have elctric windows now is that it requires much less equipment in the door. No one cares how many revolutions the electric motor takes to get the window up or down, but you certainly didn’t want to crank the window too many times to get it up or down.

  23. Mike Dunn says:

    One day at work, we were talking about old video games. I brought up the original Doom, and one of my (much) younger co-workers said, "My parents wouldn’t let me play Doom because they said I was too young."

    *facepalm*

  24. Steve D says:

    The biggest issue with non power widnows is not being able to disable the back windows from the driver’s seat when you have kids in the back.  :-P

  25. silky says:

    When I first got a car with electric windows, I thought it was about the most luxurious thing in the world to be able to, from the drivers position, open the back two windows. I felt like a king.

  26. not your father's Windows says:

    @Tom: Martin Gardner in his essay "Mathematics and the Folkways" cites German ethnologists (possibly inspired by W.E. Gladstone) who thought that the entire Greek population of Homer’s day was color-blind. Calvin’s dad (if I recall the comic correctly) worked in a great tradition.

    Back in the day, I had a job that involved driving a company van. Something went wrong inside the door, making the window just a bear to roll up and down. At some point the window must have slipped out and interfered with the latch, for as I made a right turn, the door flew open. I slammed it shut, to see a shower of broken glass fly up and in. Fortunately, auto safety glass had been invented. (If not tints.)

  27. David says:

    A friend of my younger brother was visiting our house and said he needed to phone his parents, we pointed him to our phone, a (then) normal black/coil-corded/dial phone, and he just stared at it, not knowing what to do.  

    The kid (about 8 years old) had only ever seen push-button phones.  We had to show him how to chose each number he wanted, put his finger in the hole and spin the dial around until it hit the stopper.  It was hilarious!

  28. Anonymous Coward says:

    When I was a kid, telling me not to touch the window cranks was enough to ‘disable’ them. If you need an automated disabler for that you’re not a very good parent. That said, most cars I’ve sat in as a kid didn’t have separate back doors nor back windows that could open.

    Anyway, I didn’t discover internet until I grew up (or at least, got older) because my parents didn’t want internet (don’t know why not, the reason wasn’t and isn’t financial since cheap broadband arrived pretty soon where I live) and still I encounter young people who just left their parents place and have essentially never used the internet for that reason. Of course they at least know it exists, which I didn’t until it seemingly had always been there.

    Regarding the buy-a-new-bike comment, that attitude creates a societal mood where bicycle theft is not dealt with properly. And then people get surprised how annoying it is when your bike is gone when you’re leaving the supermarket with several bags of groceries. And that even those ultra-cheap good-as-new bikes you can buy from junks behind the station do start adding up. And that there seem to be a lot more junks than before, and that they don’t keep sticking to nicking bikes. I know, I live in a city where we’ve had this happen. And the problem still persists to some extent, there are still places where you can’t leave your bike, and you’ve got to chain your bike up everywhere. When I was a kid you didn’t even really need to lock your bike.

    Oh, and I remember that during the Colourisation we had a referendum on the colours to use in the national flag. We were all so excited!

  29. Falcon says:

    More on power windows – I’ve said a number of times that it would be nice to have a dual system, with a crank handle as a backup. That would require some sort of mechanism to engage the handle only when it’s used – maybe that’s seen as being too complex.

    "My understanding as to why nearly all cars have elctric windows now is that it requires much less equipment in the door."

    I’d imagine that the mechanisms would be similar, with only the drive system being different, but I could be wrong.

    To me, the main appeal of power windows and mirrors is being able to control them without reaching over to a distant/awkward part of the car.

    What may be more surprising to people is seeing these types of accessories in older cars, e.g. from the early 1970s. On the other hand, Australia’s Holden Commodore didn’t have (all) power windows and air conditioning as standard equipment in base models until recently!

  30. Alex Volta :) says:

    @Dave O

    electricity was a big revolution, specially for women.

    Electricity brang refrigerators which allow women no to spend the entire time in the kitchen finding ways to cook, store and preserve food. Which lead women to be able to seek independence, emancipation, jobs, etc.

    @Anon Cow

    > you’ve got to chain your bike up everywhere

    If you ever come to Italy, chain it everywhere. And you always had to do that, sadly :(

  31. Roger says:

    If you read the first Bourne book by Robert Ludlum, the first *half* is about how he goes about faking passports, travel documents and money to get from France to Switzerland.  All very clever stuff.  In the film he just gets on the train.

  32. Joseph Koss says:

    I find the adoption of Cell Phones remarkable.

    no.. not for the reasons you think..

    The Cell Phone was always "a solution looking for a problem" because there wasnt really a problem!

    Sure, a few ultra rich had big bulky (suitcase sized!) mobile phones (usualy installed in their car) because they felt it was important.. but nobody else needed one.

    But as time went on they got cheaper.. and cheaper..

    ..and then payphones / booths started to disappear.

    The solution finally found a problem… one that it created.

  33. Olivier says:

    @Steve D : a good knife should do it… :)

    @Falcon : I’m not sure a dual-system to open the windows would be difficult to build.

    I remember my grandfather’s car which had an electric inbuilt sunroof : we could also use a crank to open it.

  34. Tiago Magalhães says:

    @ Joseph Koss

    You can say that about any technological breakthrough since Fire.

    "Madam, what good is a baby?" -Michael Faraday, (when asked by Queen Victoria what the electrical devices in his lab were good for)

    Did people really need for all the computers in the world to communicate freely with each other using a global network and as such set ouy to create "The Internet"?

  35. asymtote says:

    My (4 year old) kids have never known a world without TiVo. We were in hotel once and they could not understand why we couldn’t simply rewind the TV show they happened across while flipping through channels so they could watch it from the beginning. To them the interface was the same, the TV set, they just thought their parents were just capriciously denying them TV :-).

  36. dave says:

    re window cranks

    His stated reason was that if you were stuck in a ditch that started to fill with water, you could get the manual window down, and abandon the vehicle.

    He was a programmer, right?  This is a clear case of optimizing for a highly unlikely situation.

    (I’ve never been in any kind of vehicle stuck in any kind of ditch, with or without water, rising or not).

  37. Stephen Jones says:

    Cell phones solved problems we didn’t realize we had.

    a) Getting separated from the people you’re with

    b) Waiting for somebody who’s late and not knowing whether he’ll turn up or not

    c) People who felt silly talking into answer machines and so never left you a message

    d) Going shopping and being able to call home to find exactly what you need to buy

    And of course if you live in most of the Third World

    e) The ability to have a phone in the first place

  38. Igor Levicki says:

    >a) Getting separated from the people you’re with<<

    Except that the phones are the reason for the separation to begin with.

    >b) Waiting for somebody who’s late and not knowing whether he’ll turn up or not<<

    If they cared enough they would let you know they will be late or they wouldn’t be late in the first place.

    >c) People who felt silly talking into answer machines and so never left you a message<<

    Except that they now have to talk to the voice mail machine.

    >d) Going shopping and being able to call home to find exactly what you need to buy<<

    Yeah… convenient for those retards not capable of making lists before they go shopping who block the passages in the supermarket as they stand there with a phone oblivious to their surroundings.

    >e) The ability to have a phone in the first place<<

    Yes, that must be more important than having food.

  39. GWO says:

    <i>If they cared enough they would let you know they will be late</i>

    And if I’m stuck in stationary traffic due to an accident, how exactly would I do that? CLUE: it involves a mobile phone.

  40. Aneurin Price says:

    @asymtote

    I’ve still never even seen a Tivo. I don’t think they exist on this side of the pond, although there are equivalent devices sold by major telecommunications companies. I think they only work if you’re in a digital area though.

    Do they actually record a buffer of *every* available channel? I’m inferring that from the way you mentioned flipping through the channels, but I can’t see how they can tune them all concurrently.

    I suspect that by the time I have children old enough to talk there’ll be no TV, only iPlayer or its descendents.

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