June 7, 2005

The Sign Says, "Locals Only"

victor_rasuk9.jpeWatching movies about "real life," whether they are documentaries or fiction films based on real people, usually makes film viewers wonder where does the story end and the "realness" begin? But actually, what CC always thinks when watching docus is, "how did they think to put the camera there?" This question is particularly pressing in the two "dogtown" movies, Lords of Dogtown (the fiction film out in theaters last weekend) and Dogtown and Z-Boys (the docu from 2001). With skateboard wheel p.o.v.s, mid-air freeze frames from above swimming pools and archival footage from blacktop playgrounds, it's amazing where Stacy Peralta, Catherine Hardwicke and co though to put their cameras. Almost as amazing as the boarding itself.

Cinecultist watched these two movies in a slightly surprising order -- we saw the fiction film on Saturday afternoon and then with our interest piqued, forced our friend Ilana to go to two West Village video stores on Sunday night after dinner to find a copy of the documentary. With the fiction film fresh in our mind, it was fascinating to see how Peralta (the director of the documentary and the fiction film's screenwriter and a subject in both films) extrapolated moments or phrases into full-blown scenes realized by the actors. Apparently, the goofy character played by Heath Ledger, Skip, the Zephyr surfboard shop impresario was an amalgamation of two figures from the docu, Skip Engblom and Jeff Ho. Neither of them had teeth in the docu footage of the caliber Ledger sports, but their smaller personalities added up into his over the top performance. This is just one example of a detail from the documentary extrapolated from the source but not really distorting the original's intention.

In addition to Ledger and his awesome, ill-fitting chompers, we enjoyed the performances of nearly everyone in the fiction film except save Nikki Reed. Memo to Miss Hardwicke: Nikki can not act. Don't subject us to her again. Thank you for your kind attention. But otherwise, this is a cast comprised of all of the best of the bright young things. These are the kids that you expect to see really make something of their careers. Our new favorite has to be Michael Angarano, who you may recall as the younger version of Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous and as Jack's son on Will and Grace. Here he plays a rich kid who's a skateboard enthusiast and whose backyard becomes the site of the infamous Dogbowl Sessions. Where the other boys hit the growling notes, the tongue stuck out at authority moments and the burgeoning sex object appeals, Angarano brings a tenderness to the mix that mellows the rest of the cast.

In a way, despite the obvious stylistic imprint by Hardwicke, the real author of both films would have to be Peralta. Though neither film sets out to make this explicit, it was his forethought to make more of this thing that he loved as a kid until it became his career, which set the whole deal in motion. There's something a touch narcissistic about perpetuating your own legend as an instigator of cultural change, except that the number of people in the documentary who agree that he's the Man is so overwhelming. While CC would certainly not call ourselves a sports movie aficionado and the thought of watching a bunch of endless footage of the sweetest grind ever leaves us a little dry, there's an exhilaration evident from both of these movies that's palpable. It reminded us that when we were in elementary school, we could ride our bicycle home from school the entire way with no hands. That youthful impulse to drive your body beyond what you think it should do just because you can is why the Z-Boys birthed the X-Games. If you don't understand that impulse, then you don't get what it means to be young.

Pictured via Yahoo! Movies: On the left is skater Tony Alva, on the right is actor Viktor Rasuk, who plays him in Lords of Dogtown.

Posted by karen at June 7, 2005 8:30 AM