Lords of Dogtown (7/10)
by Tony Medley
For the 30 years I’ve lived in
the Venice Beach-Marina del Rey area I’ve been seeing the same guy. He’s a
teenager with long blond hair and he wears baggy shorts and he rides a
skateboard. He rides it on the sidewalk and he rides it fast and he cuts
in and out around the pedestrians. As near as I can determine, he’s
universally disliked. And as near as I can determine, he doesn’t care.
This is a movie about that guy.
And his two friends. Their names are Stacey Peralta (John Robinson) and
Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch). Written by Peralta
and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, this is a dead on biography of the
guys who turned skateboarding into a big time sport.
Hardwicke, who is a surfer and
grew up in Venice, has faithfully recreated the Venice Beach area of three
decades ago, including the long lamented Pacific Ocean Park (POP) pier,
which was abandoned in 1967 and left to rot before it burned down around
ten years later. But even better, they’ve recreated the characters of the
three boys responsible. They were selfish, inconsiderate, troubled
teenagers. And they were influenced and helped by the alcoholic Skip
Engblom (Heath Ledger), who co-owned the Zephyr Shop, where surf boards
were made in Venice.
Frankly, these guys rubbed me
the wrong way, so destructive and inconsiderate were they. But I was
seated next to a 16-year old girl and I asked her if she liked it. “Yeah,”
she said. “Do you?” After it was over I asked her if she thought it was
going to be a hit and she said, “Yes!” Then I asked her if she
skateboarded and she said, “No, but I like guys who do!” That’s all I
needed to hear to come to the conclusion that this should be a hit among
the demographically important 16-25 set.
Even though I didn’t much like
the boys themselves and their actions, like sneaking into people’s
backyards and skateboarding in their empty swimming pools, I did think
that the movie captured their characters perfectly. Unlike most movie
biographies, this doesn’t soft pedal the protagonists. Instead, it
pictures them as they probably were, although Peralta comes across as so
squeaky clean he’s hard to accept. This isn’t too surprising, considering
that he not only wrote the script, it was based on a documentary he
produced in 2002, called “Dogtown and Z-boys,” which won him the Audience
and Director’s Awards for documentary film at the Sundance Film Festival
and Best Documentary at the AFI Film Festival.
Because the action takes place
during a terrible drought, many Angelenos had drained their pools. This
gave the Z-Boys their opportunity to practice on the new-fangled urethane
wheels, which allowed the skateboard to grip much firmer and go up sheer
All the actors are good, but
Hirsch, as Jay Adams, and Ledger, as Skip, are exceptional. This is an
entertaining, atmospheric, and educational biopic.
May 31, 2005