In 2005 director Catherine Hardwicke (perhaps better known for her contribution to the Twilight franchise) embarked on a journey into the lives of the infamous – and influential – Z-Boys. Following on from the 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, Lords of Dogtown is an exploration of skateboarding legends Stacy Peralta, Jay Adams and Tony Alva during their climb to success. Audiences watch as Emile Hirsch, John Robinson and Victor Rasuk portray the trio as they pioneer classic skating tricks and each respond to success and attention in their individual ways. Heath Ledger provides a somewhat comedic support as Skip Engblom. As Zephyr owner and Z-Boys helmer, Ledger sparks in perfect method mode.
Now ten years old, Hardwicke’s film – set in the 1970’s – encapsulates the spirit of youth and rebellion from the skating trio perfectly. Beyond the charismatic leads, its Hardwicke as director who really needs the praise. To watch Twilight you wouldn’t really believe she was responsible for this and the controversial (yet acclaimed) pic Thirteen. While her stab at the vampire franchise was the best in terms of reaching out to a mass audience – enabling adults to enjoy the soppy love story too – ‘Dogtown showcases the directors stylistic intentions, with a docu-drama feel present throughout. With various locations in the boys ‘Ghetto by the sea’ framed differently, some grainy, some flooded with orange and yellow lighting, and a soundtrack dominated by Bowie and Hendrix, this is not your average sport biography. This is indie film-making at its quirkiest.
The cast is generally dominated by young talent that at that time were mostly unknown. Today, Emile Hirsch is recognized by most, and has gone on to star in an array of quirky cinema. As Jay Adams, the young actor embodies vulnerability, rebellion and an undeniable sex-appeal, and his on-screen energy is so often lacking in actors of today’s contemporary Hollywood. Robinson and Rasuk both provide support but its Ledger and Hirsch’s vehicle. While the rest of the cast don’t quite come up trumps, when together, the laughs and anarchic nature of the Z-Boys takes over and you swiftly forgive any acting pho-pars.
We see the story unfold between the years 1975-1977 and Hardwicke uses a number of montages to round out the slightly overly-long run time of 107 minutes. From skateboarding competitions to the creation of now integral moves on the board, we watch as surfing takes second-place to the new craze and as various companies try to sway Alva and co’ into joining their team. The skating narrative takes centre-stage, and the juxtaposition of almost pixelated ‘recorded’ footage (used at it’s best for close-ups in empty swimming pools) and the generic cinematic style, is coupled well to give the film a lucid visual.
The story of the Z-Boys is as poignant as it’s ever been, as Jay Adams (‘the original seed’) passed away last year. As the film comes to a close we are given a brief summary of the skaters lives post-Venice Beach and in a simply shot, yet deeply moving scene, you can’t help but wish they could all reunite. Lords of Dogtown‘s integral theme is community, and the community and family that comes with the skating world is always a pleasure to delve into. To see that become fractured as the boys grow up, as each have different priorities – for Jay the most important thing was being able to pay his Mum’s rent – as an audience we feel ourselves rooting for not just Jay, but Stacey, Tony (and even Skip). Peralata penned the screen-play and who else would of done the job better? Director of ‘Z-Boys and a key figure in the skating world himself (he mentored Tony Hawks), the film-maker and writer gives us plenty of insight into what each of the trio cared about the most, but carefully manages not to judge despite the somewhat tumultuous relationship they had.
Catherine Hardwicke’s foray into the world of 1970’s skating may be ten years old, but it looks and feels as edgy as any new-release today. Undeniably under-appreciated, Lords of Dogtown is a fun and subtly moving film that educates us on a time in sport that we may of been previously unaware of. We all wish we could of been a part of that world.