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Moment of Indiana History

Breaking Away

Bloomington, Indiana provided not only the setting for the film Breaking Away, but its subject matter as well.

From college town to classic film, on this Moment of Indiana History.

Breaking Away was made in Bloomington, Indiana,” a 1979 review in The New York Times began, “which is perhaps the film world’s equivalent of left field. For that and other reasons,” the reviewer concluded, “it’s a classic sleeper.” The coming-of-age film earned an Oscar for its screenwriter, IU alumnus Steve Tesich. In 2006, the American Film Institute gave the picture eighth place on its List of America’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies. Bloomington provided not only the setting for Breaking Away but its subject matter as well. Four recent high school graduates face challenges as working-class residents of a post-industrial college town—Bloomington. Calling themselves “cutters” as a nod to their limestone legacy, the young men while away the Indian summer swimming in the quarries that provided a livelihood for their forebears. They suffer the indignities of their “townie” status until their participation in a collegiate athletic competition—the Little 500 bicycle race—levels the playing field and brightens their prospects.

Breaking Away showcases a number of landmarks on the Bloomington campus, including the Wells Library, the Indiana Memorial Union, the Well House and the Tri-Delt sorority house on East Third Street. The film takes viewers past a number of other familiar sights, including the Monroe County Courthouse and Sanders Quarry on Empire Mill Road. A turreted house on South Lincoln, a used car lot on South Walnut and a restaurant on East Fourth Street are other extant locations used in the film. The stadium in which the bike race was filmed is markedly absent from campus these days. After the 1978 filming, Memorial Stadium on Tenth Street served as the venue for just two more Little Fives before being torn down in 1982, making way for an arboretum.

Those familiar with the Bloomington campus today will register a void as the film’s cameras pan down East Seventh Street. The strikingly modern IU Art Museum, designed by I.M. Pei, was only completed in 1982. Old timers will identify then-President John Ryan in his Bryan Hall office announcing the recognition of a community team, but will remark that his voice has been overdubbed. Even casual history buffs will object that the race has never been open to non-students. (The team that has entered the Little Five as the “Cutters” since the early 80’s normally consists of students unaffiliated with a Greek or dorm team.) Finally, those well acquainted with Bloomington lore will note that the nickname for locals was not “cutters” but “stoners” or “stonies.” Those names were considered to be too highly associated with the drug culture of the era to be used in the film.

More recently, Bloomington has served as the location for the motion pictures Viper and The Redemption.
This Moment of Indiana History is a production of the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations in association with the Indiana Historical Society. More information is available on-line at “moment of Indiana history.org.”

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