Movie review: ‘Marinoni: The Fire in the Frame’

This film is far more than one about a great craftsman pursuing his craft. It is also about two great men healing and coming out of their shells.

As a framebuilder who started in the early 1980s, the old-school way with lugs and steel tubing, I was fascinated to see a movie about Giuseppe Marinoni, the reclusive Italian who has built his namesake steel bikes in Montreal for over 40 years. I had expected to see great scenes of him in his shop, attacking his work with passion in “Marinoni: The Fire in the Frame,” and I was not disappointed. What I hadn’t expected was to also be on the edge of my seat watching his pursuit of a remarkable athletic feat, as well as witnessing the touching reunion of two of Canada’s cycling greats, delicately filmed by documentarian Tony Girardin.

You had to be a lot older than me to remember Marinoni’s racing career on this side of the pond; after coming from Italy for a single race, he met the love of his life and stayed, dominated Canadian cycling in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, I and others who were racing and/or reading VeloNews in the late 1970s and early 1980s certainly remember the beautiful bikes he built. Lots of North American champions rode them, often in disguise, such as the one painted like a Raleigh (see also) on which Connie Carpenter, Taylor Phinney’s mom, won the 1984 Olympic road race in Los Angeles.

We of that generation also remember the golden boy of Canadian cycling, Jocelyn Lovell. Marinoni built the beautiful white track bike beloved by Lovell, on which he won five gold medals and a team pursuit bronze at the 1978 Commonwealth games and then went on to win a silver medal at the world championships that same year. Lovell describes on screen how fast he felt on that bike, winning his first race with it, less than an hour after receiving it.

Lovell was paralyzed after being run over by a truck while out training in 1983, and Marinoni hadn’t seen him since. Meanwhile, decades of constant work building 30,000 frames while breathing fumes and dust from painting, welding, brazing, and sanding, combined with a lack of exercise, had taken a toll on Marinoni’s body. Trying to regain his health with activity, Marinoni’s sweat was coming out red from the toxins for the first two years back on the bike. As his body started feeling better, he focused on attempting the 75+ world hour record on that same track bike he had built for Lovell 40 years ago.

He attempted the hour near his hometown on a track in Brescia, Italy, and Girardin followed him in his training in Canada and also back to Italy for the ride. While in Italy, Marinoni does a gran fondo with Francesco Moser, and former Giro d’Italia champion Paolo Savoldelli joins him at the track for the record attempt. Ernesto Colnago discusses the art of building bikes, and Marinoni’s framebuilding mentor, Mario Rossin, is also on camera extensively, describes the passion with which the Canadian expatriate created bicycles.

The documentary builds toward the poignant reunion of Marinoni and Lovell. This is a scene not to be missed, and it is hard to watch with a dry eye. This film is far more than one about a great craftsman pursuing his craft. It is also about two great men healing and coming out of their shells late in life. I highly recommend it.