I spent a good part of my like engulfed in everything skateboarding. When not skateboarding, I took it upon myself to find out about skateboarding history and it did not take me long to find old VHS tapes of old Hollywood Sk8 movies. Out of all the horrible skateboard-related movies to come out of Hollywood, I found Gleaming the Cube and Thrashin’ to be easily the best. Gleaming the Cube has one of the silliest crime subplots ever, but for a young skater it makes for a fun albeit ridiculous film. Thrashin’ is a much cooler flick showing the various skate subcultures of the 1980’s with a radical Romeo and Juliet-style subplot. After all, nothing would be cooler to a bunch of young skaters than the idea of rival skate gangs that have skateboarding duals and rival sk8 gang chases. An especially notable scene in Thrashin’ is when the lead character of the film is chased after at night on skateboard by an enemy punk/hardcore skate gang while the classic The Circle Jerks song “Wild in the Streets” is playing. Thrashin’ is surely The Rebel Without a Cause of skateboarding. It wasn’t until Lords of Dogtown, however, that Hollywood seemed to take the history of skateboarding seriously.
Lords of Dogtown is based on the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, a documentary that essentially chronicles the early history of skateboarding. It was directed by one of the most famous Z-Boys Stacey Peralta, so as far as authenticity and historical credibility go, Dogtown and Z-Boys is a documentary in it’s own league. Catherine Hardwicke paid proper tribute to Peralta’s documentary with her film Lords of Dogtown, especially for a woman that has zero ties to skateboarding. Skateboarders have always been weary of outsiders (as Lords of Dogtown even makes known) showing interest and attempting to cash in on the popularity of skateboarding. Within the past decade, it seems that skateboarding has reached it highest point in popularity, with skate parks and stores located everywhere and a good percentage of non-skater teenagers/young adults wearing skate garb. With the 2005 release of Lords of Dogtown, it was about time that skateboarding was recognized as a legitimate and notable part of American cultural (and “sport”) history. Catherine Hardwicke was successful in making a film palatable for the general American audience but especially digestible by teenagers.
Like Dogtown and Z-Boys before it, Lords of Dogtown features an audibly agreeable soundtrack with classic rock, psychedelic rock, punk/hardcore and other appropriate tracks that surely compliment the visuals of the film. Anyone that has ever skated knows that skate videos from skateboarding companies must have agreeable soundtracks to add to the vitality and persona of a particular skater’s video part. Skate videos have also influenced many notable contemporary directors such as Larry Clark (Kids, Ken Park) and Harmony Korine (Gummo, Mister Lonely). Personally, skateboard videos were a gateway and initiation into the world of underground/independent cinema. Skateboard videos made me realize that there were much more unique, independent, and artistic filmmakers out there aside from the high priced garbage that Hollywood is constantly pumping out. Lords of Dogtown manages to express the rebellious and independent nature of skateboarding, even if it is mild in comparison to what actually comes out of the skateboarding world.
Most of the young actors did an excellent job playing their vintage rebel roles. The albino teen from Gus van Sant’s Elephant played by John Robinson does an excellent job playing the anal retentive young Stacey Peralta. Surprisingly, Emile Hirsch is not bad as the most anti-social skater Jay Adams, a skater that would play a huge role in influencing the subculture despite leading a life of petty crime. Healthy Ledger even does a superb job playing a very annoying drunk and stoned surf shop owner, kind of like the Jim Morrison of a surf ghetto. Jewish-Ingun-Wop Nikki Reed also does a good job playing a zesty teenage cocktease. I wasn’t too fond of Victor Rasu as his hair constantly reminded me of a palm tree and his cholo chauvinism is not very tolerable. Like them or not, the characters of Lords of Dogtown are surely “characters.”
I have watched Lords of Dogtown a number of time and it manages to keep its staying power. More importantly, the film makes you want to go out and skate. Lords of Dogtown may not have the hypnotic sensational Occult audio/video power of a Kenneth Anger film but it certainly accomplished what it set out to do in regards to immortalizing skateboard history in all it’s grittiness. As one of probably few skaters that also played on a football team, I can say that Lords of Dogtown did for skateboarding what Friday Night Lights did for football, offering the casual viewer a general yet entertaining inside view to each particular athletic culture. I just hope one day Hollywood decides to direct a Hollywood film about professional skateboard, artist, and Toy Machine skateboard company owner Ed Templeton., but I doubt Hollywood has that much of an interest in sk8boarding.