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I’ve been gunning for it for a while now, that elusive movie and session time combination that would grant me the whole cinema to myself.. And I finally managed to pull it off!

The session: 11:00 am. The movie THE LORDS OF DOGTOWN, Although now the question remains, Is having a cinema all to yourself a sign that the movie isn’t worth seeing? Or is it just the fact that the movie isn’t really getting the same kind of publicity that some of the Hollywood big guns have been backed by lately? There’s only one way to find out – Read on my friend!

There aren’t too many people around who can really claim that they were on the front line of creating something that eventually permeated modern culture. That is unless you point at those guys who built personal computers in the nineteen seventies, but while most of those guys are exceedingly wealthy now they aren’t anywhere near as cool as the guys who’s stories are told in THE LORDS OF DOGTOWN.

Growing up in Dogtown (CA), in the shadow of Pacific Ocean Park (a failed amusement park), a group of teenagers struggle for the ‘right’ to surf the local break. A stretch of beach sheltered by the remains of the amusement park (which jutted out hundreds of feet over the ocean) offered some exceptional surfing conditions and was guarded furiously by local surfers. The right to surf there, even for young locals had to be earned: Mostly by standing watch for boards that got away from riders amongst the pier pylons, or by chasing off outsiders looking to cut in on the action. Skateboarding was something that also occupied the minds of this group of teens, however, during the early sixties it was primarily used as a mode of transport. Surfing was the real goal and the way most of them intended to spend their time, when they’d earned the right.

However that attitude changed when the Dogtown boys discovered the asphalt paved school grounds and other concrete ‘waves’ on which they could apply their surfing skills to the way they rode their skateboards. At a time when riding a skateboard meant standing tall and leaning back into the ride (or pulling off a hand stand if you were really skilled) Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, Shogo Kubo and the rest of the Dogtown boys began squatting down on their boards, kicking out hard turns, actually touching the ground as they rode steep embankments. These boys bought an aggression to skating and a style that was born out of the unusual and hard environment in which they lived.

“We were just trying to emulate our favorite Australian surfers,” said Tony Alva in a 1999 interview with SPIN magazine. “They were doing all this crazy stuff that we were still trying to figure out in the water–but on skateboards, we could do it.”
“No one else had that same surf-skate style, because they didn’t have banks like that anywhere else: We had this tradition that was unique to our area.”

LORDS OF DOGTOWN tells the story of these boys and it tells it in a pretty honest and gritty style. The origin of what we recognise as modern skateboarding and the culture that surrounds it are on display in this film and, for one who actually lived through this era the movie is an incredibly accurate portrayal of the time. Catherine Hardwicke, who’s Production Designer resume boasts titles like TOMBSTONE, THREE KINGS, ANTITRUST and VANILLA SKY takes on the Directors role for only the second time. Comparing LORDS OF DOGTOWN to her previous outing, the provocative THIRTEEN, it seems that Harwicke has a taste for scripts that examine self destructive tendencies.

To be fair, Harwicke has produced a film which has an extremely personal feel to it. You don’t feel like an observer at all, in fact the movie has such a raw sense about it that it almost comes across like a documentary. The credit for that Harwicke will have to share with the amazing young cast who carry the film with an impressive show of strong performances across the board.

John Robinson (ELEPHANT), Emile Hirsch (THE GIRL NEXT DOOR) and Victor Rasuk (RAISING VICTOR VARGAS) are somewhat overshadowed by an almost unrecognisable Heath Ledger in the early stages of the film, however at the point at which Ledger’s portrayal of Skip Engblom, (the owner of Zephyr surf shop and first to exploit the boy’s talents) reaches critical mass he all but disappears from the screen, allowing the young cast to shine as their characters near their own event horizons.

On the whole, the weakest part of THE LORDS OF DOGTOWN ironically is the script. I say ironically because the script was written by the real Stacy Peralta so, to a degree, it must be pretty accurate: Although, perhaps watered down over the course of time? Whatever the reason the script seems to rush to meet the important events of the movie, a sense of time is lost as we jump from one event to another. If I can come to its defence though, the movie is based on a true story and real life doesn’t always afford us the comfort of a well formed character arc or the perfect timing of a Hollywood script.

Despite ifs flaws, LORDS OF DOGTOWN is an interesting insight into the events that bought about the establishment of Pro Skating. For those interested in the sport then this will probably all come as old news, however if you’re unfamiliar with the story, even if you’re not interested in skateboarding, you may find LORDS OF DOGTOWN to be an entertaining evening out.

NOTE: Keep an eye out for some neat cameos!

[Originally written for EON and published at Gamespace on Fri, 26 Aug 2005]

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