Dogtown and Z Boys

             I’m always a bit suspicious when a film arrives bearing the
     imprimatur of the Sundance Film Festival. To me, there’s something in the
     altitude and late-night screenings that makes otherwise reasonable people
     accept middling movies as works of genius. That’s not to say that there
     aren’t bona fide gems that play the festival, it’s just that the hype
     sometimes overwhelms.

             So when
DOGTOWN AND Z BOYS arrived bearing the best director
     prize and sharing the audience award from Sundance, my hackles were
     raised. At the time of its release, nonfiction films were still not accorded
     the respect they have been given in recent years, so I opted to skip the
     movie. I mean, it was about a bunch of guys from Southern California
     who were famous for riding skateboards. It didn’t exactly appeal to me
     at the time.

             I waited to see the movie until it was on DVD, and only then because
     I was preparing to review the director’s second feature documentary
       RIDING GIANTS (about surfing). I don’t completely regret the decision, but
     I was pleasantly surprised by the documentary. More than likely, it’s
     because the film is filled with a genuine sense of admiration and passion,
     due in no small part to the fact that writer-director Stacy Peralta and
     co-writer Craig Stecyk were both part of the phenomenon. Indeed,
     Stecyk was something of a Boswellian presence when the events first
     unfolded, snapping photographs and shooting amateur video. Peralta was
     one of the titular Z Boys (so named for the Zephyr Surf Shop which
     sponsored the skateboarding team). To be honest, their participation is
     also one of the film’s weaknesses, since it calls into question the objectivity
     of the filmmakers. Peralta also makes the strange choice to treat himself
     in the third person until the end of the film when it is revealed he directed
     the movie.

             In the rundown area of Venice Beach, California in the 1970s, the locals
     would often surf in the dangerous waters off the rundown pier. Among them
     was Skip Engblom, one of the owners of Zephyr. A swaggering man who
     likens himself to Captain Hook and the skateboarders to a team of pirates,
     Engblom is one of the more colorful characters who appear in the film.

DOGTOWN AND Z BOYS offers up the thesis that the Southern
     California skaters were responsible for pushing the sport beyond its staid
     boundaries. When it reemerged in the 1970s, skateboarding competitions
     involved required elements (much like the ice dancing at the Olympics) and
     any variations beyond those technicalities was viewed with suspicion.
     Peralta posits that he and his fellow rebels, including Tony Alva and
     Jay Adams, were the vanguard in changing the sport. Appropriating moves
     from surfing (such as riding low to the ground), the Z Boys became
     celebrities before the culture was fully driven by famous people. Of course,
     it helped greatly that Stecyk was there to shoot the pictures and write
     the articles that described the Dogtown style.

             Still, I have to say that I was impressed with the film. Kudos should
     go to film editor Paul Crowder for assembling the material. Several scenes
     of the skaters are stunning to watch (in a sort of “how did they do that?”
     manner) and the film has been edited well. Peralta also uses music from
     the period perfectly to complement the action. And many of the skaters
     interviewed have grown up to become articulate and entertaining
     individuals (at least in the film). Perhaps the most poignant case, though,
     is of Jay Adams, clearly the most attractive and arguably the best skater
     who now sits in prison on drug charges, his good looks ravaged by beatings
     and time. His presence in the film calls to mind the Greek myth of Icarus
     and it is rather sad and upsetting to contemplate the waste of talent.

Rating:                   B
MPAA Rating:         PG-13 for language and some
                                                               drug references
Running time:         89 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.