Of all the business ruts to get stuck in, there’s a particular frustration with casting your lot with an organization that struggles with success. As a company distinguishes itself in the marketplace, everything around it continues to grow. More press, more employees, more customers, more parasites looking to milk a few dollars. The principles that led the organization in its earliest days are tested. Ownership paradoxically will need to cede control, its just not possible for a leader to perform all the tasks required. Eventually responsibilities are divided amongst a management class. This transition is often incredibly difficult for the founders. They started their businesses to assert a measure of control but find that their ultimate reward to just to sit as a figurehead while the organization runs itself.
Knightriders depicts a traveling renaissance festival featuring a jousting competition performed on motorcycles. This band of performers cast themselves in the mold of King Arthur. Unbeknownst to the spectators, leadership is determined by the outcomes of the duels.
An audience member immediately discredits the whole spectacle as “fake like wrestling” and it’s true. The lances are cut so that they’ll break on contact; the axes and swords dulled and lighter than they appear; but even with these handicaps combat threatens bodily harm. After too many attempts to defend his throne, Billy (Ed Harris) is seriously injured. Any more challenges through combat will probably cost his life.
Perhaps more troubling, his troupe has drawn steadily increasing crowds and attention from talent scouts. The press have started trailing the group writing articles that highlight the spectacle while remaining oblivious to the ethics.
Instead of embracing the attention and fame, adjusting to the success of their operation, Billy hunkers down and resists the depictions from the press and the entreaties of the talent scouts. But the crowds keep growing, and more locals show up in mock armor of their own expecting to take part in the duels.
George Romero’s a genius for drawing memorable performances from his actors, gathered primarily from a local pool of talent they often never graduate to Hollywood roles. Even Tom Savini can carry a dramatic scene in this film! Into this mix Ed Harris is an interloper. He acts at a level far above his costars. In one somewhat awkward sequence he tries to be generous with a fellow actor working on a song. What tends to work best is leaving Harris alone in the shot and fortunately Billy gets plenty of opportunities for brooding and quiet introspection.
Knightriders suffers from its length, and despite which never fully establishes its character’s motivations. Billy’s troupe are acutely aware of how closely they’re tracking to the Arthurian legend and embrace their trajectories as a matter of fate.