Dogtown and Z-Boys

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005
I just watched the documentary Dogtown and Z-boys, which is a history of the Zephyr skating team and how they went from surfing to revolutionizing the sport of skateboarding. Wow. My first impressions: color, movement, tribe, transitions, water, concrete, sunny, seedy, art, athleticism, drive, and the freedom of doing something for the pure joy of it. I really liked the look and the styling of the film, but what I think I liked the most was the sense that I was looking at a turning point - the moment when things changed from more of the same to something completely new. It doesn't matter that I'm no jock, and would in fact crack my head like a cantaloupe 3 seconds after entering an emptied out swimming pool on a skateboard. It is still interesting and exciting.

I specifically loved the use of 70's color - the sun, the water, the hot sky, orange t-shirts - it all read as long endless summer at the beach. There was a tremendous amount of movie footage in addition to still photos from the time, which helped with the sense of momentum. I also liked the glimpse of history of the Venice/Santa Monica area (up to 1975, anyway). The sense of place was STRONG. Locals only, indeed. Another cool thing was the black & white/ color reversals - stuff from the present was in black and white, stuff from the past was in glorious color.

I read some other reviews that accused the film of being overly self-important (Stacy Peralta, the director, was one of the Z-boys) but I don't agree. Roger Ebert said it was similar to a WWII veteran thinking the whole war centered around his platoon. This seems like a weird charge to make. First of all, there is something to be said for a small scene like that being examined from the inside. Sure, you aren't getting an impartial 3rd party POV, but on the other hand there's no way those guys would have talked to someone else the same way they talked to one of their own. Secondly, so what if they are? Let Ken Burns come along in 15 years and make a ponderous overview of the history of skateboarding - until then I'll content myself with this I-was-there account.
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