Dogtown and Z-Boys
October 4, 2005
Starring: Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Shogo Kubo, Bob Biniak, Nathan Pratt, Stacy Peralta, Jim Muir, Allen Sarlo, Paul Constantineau, Peggy Oki, Wentzle Ruml, Craig Stecyk, Jeff Ho, Tony Hawk, Henry Rollins, Sean Penn, ,
In the mid-‘70s, California was hit by a crippling drought that made it impossible to surf any kind of decent waves. The locals in an area of West Los Angeles known as Dogtown always had skateboarding to fall back on when the surfing wasn’t any good. They all hung out at a local surf shop that reflected their surroundings: a rough seaside slum that fostered a proudly anti-establishment image because they all felt like outcasts. The surf shop was a place where these kids felt like they belonged.
The core group consisted of 12 kids who rejected the tried and true skating techniques of the ‘60s for a more aggressive, stylish approach inspired by the way they surfed. Amazingly, no one had thought of doing this before and it blew the world of skateboarding wide open. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001) traces their origins and the rise and fall of this group, known as the Zephyr team (or Z-Boys for short), from the perspective of its members.
At the time, there were no skate parks so the Zephyr team had to skate in deserted school yards and then, once they discovered them, empty swimming pools drained by the drought. They ended up being the perfect spots for skating and ushered in the era of vertical skating thanks to the influence of surfing and the vision of one of their own, Tony Alva. The only problem with skating in background pools is that the Z-Boys weren’t supposed to be there and a session would end suddenly when the owners or the cops showed up.
Finally, skateboarding enjoyed enough of a resurgence that a national competition surfaced in Del Mar in 1975. The Z-Boys got a team together and came in with their punk rock aesthetic and blew people’s minds that were used to the hopelessly outdated ‘60s style. However, the downside came in the form of rich skateboard companies who broke up the Z-Boys with the lure of money and fame. Within a year, their beloved surf shop was out of business.
The documentary goes on to trace the rise of several of the Z-Boys, like Alva, Stacy Peralta and Jay Adams, into superstars. They were treated like gods in the skateboarding world and went from living off the streets to having all kinds of money, fame and women thrown at them. Some of them, like Adams, couldn’t handle the sudden fame and fortune. It’s a shame because he was the most natural and spontaneous of the team, a brilliant “athletic stream-of-consciousness,” as one person puts it. However, Alva and Peralta were able to diversify and take control of their careers and still skate today, capitalizing on their early success.
There is an infectious energy to this documentary that mirrors its subject. Gone are boring talking heads mixed with standard stock footage and instead we are presented with stills and vintage footage taken back in the day that comes to life thanks to kinetic editing and period rock ‘n’ roll music setting just the right tone. Like its subjects, the doc’s style lets it all hang out. For example, at one point, the film’s narrator, Sean Penn, clears his throat in mid-narration. Most slick docs would have edited this out but it is kept in. It is these little touches that make it distinctive.
What gives Dogtown and Z-Boys such authenticity is that it was made by one of their own, Stacy Peralta, and this gives the movie unprecedented inside access that an outsider would never have. This is a fascinating look at these maverick skaters and how they influenced contemporary skateboarding that we now take for granted.
To capitalize on the new, dramatized version of the documentary that will appear in theatres this summer, known as Lords of Dogtown, Sony/Columbia has double-dipped the already excellent DVD with two new extras that offer tantalizing footage from this new movie.
There is still the audio commentary by Peralta and editor Paul Crowder. The two men talk about the music that is used in the movie and how they found the right song for the right segment. Before the film was edited together, they assembled a trailer to show all the rock bands that they wanted to use their music in the movie to give them an idea of what it was all about. This is solid track with some good anecdotes, like how they got Sean Penn involved (he was a surfer and a skater and even went to school with some of the Z-Boys), that makes this worth a listen.
One new extra is the “Lords of Dogtown: Sneak Peek” introduced by Alva and Peralta. The two guys work hard to sell the authenticity of this new movie but the nagging question still remains, why dramatize an already great documentary that pretty much says it all?
The other new extra is “Lords of Dogtown Webisodes” introduced by the film’s director Catherine Hardwicke. This is another brief, tantalizing look at the movie with an interview with one its stars, Heath Ledger. He talks about how he got involved and what it was like playing a real person who’s still alive. The attention to period detail does look good and the actors really look like the people they are based on.
“Freestyle Experience (Raw Footage)” allows you to watch additional, deleted footage spliced back into the documentary at certain points.
“Alternate Ending: Alva 2000” shows the veteran skater still doing his thing even today.
“Bicknell Hill Session” features photos of the Z-Boys in action circa 1974.
“Jeff Ho 2000” is raw footage of Peralta visiting Ho at his surf shop in Hawaii.
Finally, there is “Mar Vista 2000” which features footage of Peralta, editor Paul Crowder and assistant editor Scott Juergens skating at Mar Vista School during a break from working on the doc.