How would you like it if I wrote a feature-length story for this paper about how I was super-duper cool as a kid, and everybody really looked up to me and respected me for being so super-duper cool? I somehow think you wouldn't like that. Okay, but what if I wrote the story and it was really, really good? That's the quandary for the audience member approaching Dogtown and Z-Boys, a documentary about a handful of kids from Southern California who revolutionized skateboarding in the '70s. It's a really good, and entertaining story that places these kids on a pedestal--the only problem is that the director was one of the kids sitting right next to them.
As one of the founding members of the Z-Boys crew, Stacy Peralta looks back in loving memory at the Dogtown skaters who went from being average kids from broken homes to international superstars. But instead of being a remembrance piece, Peralta tries to present the story from a purely objective standpoint and finds himself on very shaky ground.
Dogtown was the petname given to a rundown section of ghetto beach between Venice and Santa Monica, which in the '70s was home to a gang of young toughs who guarded their favorite surf spot with violent tenacity. Some local surfboard manufacturers (which included the documentary's screenwriter, Craig Stecyk--remember that name it'll be important later) took these outcasts under their wing and created the Zephyr Surf Team, who came to be known for their aggressive style in the water. However, due to the limited amount of time one can surf, the rest of the team's day was spent riding skateboards.
Now the difference between the Z-Boys (as in Zephyr) and the rest of us who rode skateboards around that time, was their ability to directly adapt their environment into an extremely distinctive style. They were mean kids so they skated mean--but with a smooth style lifted straight from the ocean. And when Skateboarder Magazine featured stories and pictorials about the Z-Boys (happily written by Craig Stecyk--remember that name?), their aggressive style on and off the boards eventually made Jay Adams, Tony Alva, and yes, even Stacy Peralta household names.
Dogtown and Z-Boys is therefore a remembrance of things past; a skate down memory lane where all the participants reflect on the best times of their lives, while photos and Super-8 footage documents every blonde-haired, perfectly tanned moment. As a director, Peralta is unusually skilled. His visual style is just as aggressive as the skaters, filled with stutter cuts, swooping cameras, and high-octane music from the likes of Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent. It's probably one of the more visually exciting documentaries you will ever see.
But here's the problem: There is absolutely no way for Peralta to be objective--so why is he bothering? He appears on camera, talking about how great he and his friends were without ever mentioning he's the one making the film. He even devotes a small section of the film to himself! Sure, he was a great skater but let's tuck that ego in a little bit.
This lack of objectivity also provides a lack of drama; Peralta only recalls the glory of their victories--never its aftermath. It's revealed in the credits that one of their most talented skaters, Jay Adams, is currently serving time in prison. How did he get there? We'll never know, because Peralta is too busy describing the beauty of young Adams' "over-the-lip vert."
The upside of this film is the love Peralta obviously has for his subject and friends. And, regardless of this conflict of interest, he's made a really fun movie that is strangely uplifting. These kids had absolutely no future, and became everything they wanted simply by doing what they loved--kind of a Bad News Bears for the bird-flipping stoner set. And since Stacy Peralta and the rest of the Dogtowners made my life more bearable growing up, all minor cinematic indiscretions previously mentioned are hereby forgiven.