Dogtown & Z-Boys

"Very Good"

Dogtown & Z-Boys Review


Without the Z-Boys, there would be no X-Games. The very concept of extreme sports was born on the hot asphalt of a dilapidated south Santa Monica in the 1970s, when a group of teenage surfers took up skateboarding to keep busy in the afternoons when the waves died down.

The inventive, kinetic, spirit-capturing documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys" recounts with vivid enthusiasm the history of how those kids led a mini-revolution in a street sport, dismissed by the mainstream, that continues to influence youth culture to this day.

Skateboarding had been around in some form since the 1950s, but it wasn't until the invention of urethane wheels -- replacing the metal rollerskate wheels that had been jury-rigged onto planks of wood for 20 years -- that skateboards became more than a novelty.

This is territory covered in the film, which packs everything you'd ever want to know about skateboarding into a bang-up 87-minute adrenaline rush. But director Stacy Peralta knows better than anyone why to focus specifically on the Z-Boys, who took surfing style to the streets, then to the paved embankments of school playgrounds, then to the drought-emptied swimming pools of Los Angeles. Peralta was a Z-Boy.

The moniker was the abbreviated nickname for the Zephyr Skateboarding Team, an offshoot of a rebellious and territorial surf club that fearlessly rode the wild waves which lapped through the hazardous ruins and fallen roller-coaster tracks of the once-famous Santa Monica Pier. Going to competitions where other kids were doing little more than "nose wheelies" and handstands on their boards, the Z-Boys literally surfed the streets, originating the kinds of board-gripping, back-flipping stunts that evolved into the visual signature of the sport. "It was like a hockey team going to a figure skating contest," one Z-Boy remembers.

Narrated with dry ebullience by actor Sean Penn, this documentary is occasionally a tad self-important ("Children took the ruins of the 20th century and made art out of it," says Penn), but it absolutely transports you into the Z-Boys culture. It's brimming with 8mm footage of a dozen legendary skateboarders like Peralta, Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Peggy Oki taking over empty swimming pools and literally inventing half-pipe skating right before our eyes.

Through obliging, reminiscent interviews, photos and stories culled from enthusiastic skateboard writer/photographer Craig Stecyk, and innovative, exhilarating editing by Paul Crowder, "Dogtown and Z-Boys" vividly characterizes what it felt like, say, the very first time Alva "caught air" while skating up the side of an empty pool. The viewer comes to understand vividly and vicariously how rousing it was just to be the guy who spots a great empty pool while scouring back yards from the roof of a car driving down suburban alleys.

One of the film's few problems is that dates are rarely given for the events depicted, so its timeline is unclear. There's no way to tell, for example, how soon after that first competition Peralta, Adams and Alva were snatched up by corporate sponsors, initiating the break-up of the Z-Boys. This is mentioned early in the film, but everyone seems to be around for the pool-thrashing episodes, which feel as if they take place much later.

But such quibbles don't diminish the feelings of extended adolescent joy that "Dogtown" will stir in anyone interested even vaguely in skateboarding as a sport or a pop culture phenomenon. Even those with no interest in skateboarding will get sucked into the film from a sociological standpoint. The significance of the Z-Boys influence on everything from MTV to ESPN simply cannot be underestimated, and in this movie you can watch bona fide footage of the birth of so many trends that still thrive.

It's no wonder "Dogtown & Z-Boys" took home the Audience Award and the Director's Award at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. This flick is about as cool and crowd-pleasing as a documentary can get.



Facts and Figures

Production compaines: Agi Orsi Productions, Vans Off the Wall

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Narrator, as Himself (Zephyr skate team), as Himself, as Himself, as Himself, as Himself, as Himself, as Himself

Also starring:

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