dogtown and z-boys (2002)


director: stacey peralta

narrator: sean penn

The really fantastic story at the heart of Stacey Peralta’s Dogtown and Z-Boys is one that will resonate with anyone who was young in the late 70s and early 80s. In many ways, its identical to the birth of punk rock at the same time, but transplanted to a run-down beach community on the edge of the Pacific.

Like British punk and the Sex Pistols, the birth of modern skateboarding was centered around a shop - in this case, a surfboard store at the top of a steep hill leading down to the decrepit piers of Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica. A group of local kids from broken homes surfed through the lethal jungle of collapsing piles in the morning, then spent the afternoon on homemade skateboards zipping down the hill in front of the shop, and up and down the asphalt embankments in nearby schoolyards.

They would, in a few years, become the first superstars of a skateboarding scene they did so much to revive - Tony Alva, director Peralta, and the movie’s tragic figure, Jay Adams, the boy genius who would squander his chance with drugs and self-destructive behaviour. The scene they started became the model for so much of teen punk culture at the turn of the 80s, as interviews with punk idols Henry Rollins, Ian McKaye, Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament, and later skateboard superstar Tony Hawk demonstrate.

Peralta’s film would probably have been a static affair if he only had interviews and a few old photos to work from, but the early skater scene was uniquely well-documented, in both photos and film, by co-writer Craig Stecyk and co-producer Glenn E. Friedman, whose iconic work defined skating and, later, early hardcore punk and rap. It’s rare to single out the work of an editor, but Paul Crowder’s hyperkinetic collage, cut to an unbelievably evocative soundtrack of classic 70s glam and heavy metal (Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, T. Rex, Bowie, Thin Lizzy and more), sums up the era, and Dogtown’s misfit crew, in a concentrated rush of pure energy.

The star factor that will probably draw in crowds - Sean Penn’s stoic narration - is actually the most unspectacular part of Peralta’s film. Twenty-five years after the scene it documents began, Dogtown and Z-Boys could become like Bruce Brown's 1966 Endless Summer, preserving skateboarding in amber the way that Endless Summer became the central document of 60s surf culture, equal parts nostalgic retrospective and inspiration for young people with an excess of energy and no sense of their own mortality.