Charlie Brechtel knows the world of the road-trippin’ motorcycle rider.
He’s been one all his life.
His new film “Rebel on the Highway,” which filmed scenes Saturday at the Longhorn Steakhouse in Tuolumne, seeks to bring a vision of redemptive biker morality to the world.
“There's no famous movie stars. It’s bike people and blues men,” said the bearded and bandana-ed Brechtel, who wrote and stars in the film. “We’re doing it all ourselves. We’re gonna take it on the road like a circus and show it all through the United States.”
And although an outlaw biker club packing a long mixed commercial-residential street in Tuolumne might cause some locals concern, the vibe Saturday morning was mellow and inviting.
Even some of the locals, including Longhorn Steakhouse proprietor John Draper, were able to act in the scenes as extras.
Other films and TV shows have been filmed at the Longhorn, said Draper, who also added he was the longest-running bar operator in Tuolumne County, clocking in about 39 years.
“The atmosphere is unique here. It has character.”
The country-western Longhorn, decorated with deer-heads, gas lamps and wagon wheels, made a perfect set for scenes set in a backcountry, rural roadhouse. In some places dingy and dimly lit, whatever was rough around the edges was outshined by a sense of fellowship that pervaded the location, and the film itself.
With Executive Producer Dennis Sanfilippo in tow, the work commenced promptly at 10 a.m. and lasted through the afternoon.
Sanfilippo noted that Tuolumne was just the latest stop in an over-one-year filming odyssey that had taken the crew from New Orleans and Milwaukee to Sturgis and Copperopolis. God, the Devil, and the iconic “Crossroads” (a la blues legend Robert Johnson) feature in the film as Brechtel undergoes a journey of road-wizened absolution.
“It’s really coming together. It’s really believable,” he said. “There’s a good message. It’s about good and bad.”
Key to the film, both he and Brechtel noted, was that the whole cast was made up of real-life bikers and musicians.
“Most of the people are playing themselves,” Sanfilippo said. “It's a cross between the Blues Brothers and Easy Rider.”
Despite the bedraggled appearance of the “non-actor” actors, whatever was amateurish about the production was overshadowed by its authenticity.
“That was a good shot!” shouted Brechtel at one point in the filming.
“Again!” yelled back director Cheryl Mcintire, of Jamestown.
“No way!” said an astonished Brechtel, turning around with his arms outstretched.
There were hours of controlled takes of Brechtel riding in on a Panzer Captain America motorcycle, his buddy Gary Walker (“Big G” as he’s known in the film) refining dialogue, and formatting shots from the crew.
Between takes, the conversation was amiable and anecdotal. With wafts of stale cigarette smoke floating upward and the rumble of motorcycles in the air, the cast and crew discussed the glory days of biker culture, the permanence of tradition, and the the legacy of American grit earned on the road.
Sanfilippo, who knew Hells Angels riders working at the notorious concert at Altamont speedway, talked at length about biker culture, from Hunter S. Thompson’s book “Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs,” to cast member Gloria Tramontin Struck, who still rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle at 91 years old.
“There's always this stigma on motorcycle clubs being gangs, but it's not that way,” he said. “For the whole biking world, you only ever hear if something bad happens. If something good happens you never hear about that. We’re trying to show the good side.”
At face value, the subject matter might seem purely for adults.
Not so, said director and Sonora resident Cheryl Mcintire.
“It’s for everyone. You can bring your kids,” she said.
“We have gone everywhere and it has been awesome,” she added. “We’ve had some really wonderful people working with us.”
Brechtel, who offhandedly recalls musical mentorship from blues legend John Lee Hooker, noted Melyvn “Deacon” Jones, Guitar Shorty and Lester Chambers play roles in the film.
These blues musicians aren't “making money anymore,” he said. “So this might help their career out, too.”
The crew will be at the San Andreas airport in October for a “big race scene,” Brechtel said, and plans to finish filming by the end of the year.
The film is slated to premiere on July 14, 2017, the same month and day as the perennial biker film “Easy Rider.”
Going forward, Brechtel and his crew have no plans but to ride on.
And if they have any advice, in the words of Big G, it's this: “Get a bike.”