Okay so you’re familiar with skateboards, right? Well what this documentary is about is a specific team/subculture of the skateboarders, in the ’70s, in a wasteland of a beach resort in california. The team starts up around the Zephyr surf shop, a shop apparently known for its unique shaped boards and handpainted graphics inspired by hispanic gang grafitti around the neighborhood. The shop plucks up young street kids who know how to surf. During the off hours, when the waves aren’t good for surfing, they practice on their skateboards, going up concrete embankments, putting their fingers on the ground the way their favorite surfer did on the waves.
Eventually they get so good at the skateboards that that becomes their main thing. Their surf inspired style is completely different from what everyone else is doing, and the archival footage does a good job of showing that it was a more visually appealing style. Then they come across the idea of sneaking into mansions, emptying swimming pools and skateboarding up and down the sides of them until the police come. The movie shows how this group of Kids From Broken Homes took their hobby (that nobody ever saw as a profession) and turned it into a whole culture with magazines and movies, inventing all the elements that would grow into many of the things we have today in professional skateboarding, “extreme sports”, “action sports”, Sobe Adrenaline Rush beverages and of course Vin Diesel in XXX coming this summer to a theater near you.
The story is really pretty interesting even for those of us who couldn’t give a mouse’s balls about skateboarding or surfing or rollerskating or what not. There is alot of old footage of the kids surfing and skating and the setting is real interesting. The private beach where they surfed, full of potentially deadly posts and pylons from an abandoned amusement park, is like something out of a Mad Max movie, and the city looks like the rotted corpse of a dead tourist attraction. The kids all look like Hanson brothers or the kids from the ’70s summer camp movies. So the movie has a raw, ugly look and feel real different from anything we’ve seen in a while. And watching the kids skateboard you can see why they were so influential.
Unfortunately the actually filmation and directationalism of the picture is not up to the Vern standard of quality documentarianism. The director is Stacy Peralta, one of the kids on the team and owner of a skateboard company. He didn’t have enough archival footage to tell the story so most of the movie is made up of talking head interviews with the skateboarders and a few others who knew them.
Alot of the interviews, especially those with Stacy himself, tend to go off into grand proclamations about who was the greatest skater ever, who changed the world, comparing themselves and their buddies to great jazz musicians or Muhammed Ali. Alot of sentences start out, “You gotta understand…” and you know they’re going into Paul Bunyan territory. The story is not told from Peralta’s point of view (he is interviewed just like the others, and lets Sean Penn do the narration) but since he’s behind the camera alot of the interviewees keep referring to “you guys” or “what you guys were doing.” It makes it a little dishonest or at least it’s distracting because it makes you wonder if every day of this guy’s childhood really was a great moment in history or if he’s just full of himself.
They also have trouble communicating some of the basic facts of the movie. I don’t think they ever explained the dorky “Z-Boys” part of the title and it’s not until after the end credits that they explain that “dogtown” was a nickname they made up for their neighborhood one day and not what other people in the area called it.
And there’s a hackneyed super-8 motif with lots of phoney film leader and projector sound effects thrown in. Yeah, I know, it represents the do it yourself, home movie quality of the story but it gets old fast. There was one part I liked where Sean Penn coughed during the narration and they left it in.
But I’d still recommend the picture. It’s a real interesting topic and seeing the old footage of these punk kids and their outlaw talent is even a little inspirational.