Skateboarding isn't something I'd
normally be interested in, but after being knocked out by Stacy
Peralta's amazing documentary about big-wave surfing, Riding
Giants, I knew I wanted to see his earlier film, Dogtown
and Z-Boys. And I'm glad I did: though it's not as polished as
Riding Giants, Peralta's first feature film presents its
subject matter with enthusiasm and style, conveying not just the
personalities and events surrounding the birth of modern
skateboarding, but also the atmosphere and attitude that were
inseparable from the participants.
Dogtown and Z-Boys focuses on
a particular group of young surfers-turned-skateboarders in the tough
"Dogtown" neighborhood of Venice, California in the 1970s,
and along the way offers a brief history of the rise of skateboarding
in general. What had been a fad, one that many would have relegated
to the same category as hula hoops and yo-yos, was revitalized by the
athletic, aggressive style developed by the members of the Zephyr
team (the Z-Boys of the title). Dogtown and Z-Boys highlights
the origins of the Zephyr team and its signature style, giving us an
intimate view of the personalities of all the participants as they
reshaped skateboarding almost by accident. The film gives some
context for the importance of the Zephyr team to the sport as a
whole, with the later part of the film touching on the careers of the
Z-Boys once skateboarding became a big business and lucrative
sponsorship deals started turning up; some more recent skateboarding
superstars like Tony Hawk also give their perspectives on the way the
Z-Boys shaped modern skateboarding. But Dogtown and Z-Boys is
not a history of skateboarding in general, but rather a look at a
particular place, time, and set of people; the film never loses the
focus that's clearly set forth in its title.
Director and co-writer Stacy Peralta
(himself one of the Z-Boys, and one of the interview subjects in the
film) gives Dogtown and Z-Boys a highly distinctive style,
both visually and structurally. In terms of cinematography and
editing, Dogtown and Z-Boys seems to capture some of the punk
attitude of skateboarding itself, with rapid-fire cuts, the frequent
use of black-and-white film, and a general music-video-like visual
style; the stationary interview shots are balanced out by often
frenetic camera work in other scenes, particularly those that liven
up shots of still photographs by moving the camera or flicking back
and forth between images. Overall, this makes for an interesting (if
slightly hyperactive) feel for the film, but at times it feels a
little overdone; Peralta would end up backing off just a tad in
Riding Giants and hitting the sweet spot in terms of style.
Dogtown and Z-Boys fits in
quite a few interview segments with members of the Zephyr team and
other people who knew or worked with them: Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta,
Tony Alva, Craig Stecyk, Jeff Ho, Shogo Kubo, Peggy Oki, Jim Muir,
and others. Tony Hawk also makes an appearance, discussing the
importance of the Dogtown movement in several clips.
It's a reasonably well-structured
film, following events in a more or less chronological order, but
also usefully arranging the material into sub-sections that focus on
particular aspects of the Z-Boys' story. One thing that feels a bit
awkward at times is the continuing emphasis on the "Dogtown"
articles written by Craig Stecyk. It's clear from the film that these
articles in Skateboarder magazine were extremely influential,
bringing the Dogtown style to the attention of the larger world of
skateboarding, but in a film that is, itself, about the Dogtown
phenomenon, it feels odd to keep stepping back and looking at the
events through the perspective of this set of articles. To a certain
extent, this is explained by the fact that Stecyk was Peralta's
co-writer on the film, but I think the film would have been better if
it had simply mentioned the articles rather than dwelling on them.
Dogtown and Z-Boys also ends up getting a bit repetitive
toward the end, but with a running time of 91 minutes, it manages to
wrap things up before getting too bogged down.
Skateboarding fans will obviously
get the most enjoyment out of Dogtown and Z-Boys, as they'll
appreciate the ample footage of the Zephyr team as they discover and
practice the moves that would become the basic repertoire of modern
skateboarders. The interviews with the Zephyr team members and other
key figures in the 1970s skateboarding scene will also pack a lot
more punch with viewers who already know who's who, and will be
thrilled to hear them discuss the topic in their own words. But
that's not to say that Dogtown and Z-Boys is a film only for
skateboarding fans; as I said at the beginning of the review, I'm
certainly not one, but I found it a very interesting film on its own
merits. Peralta does a nice job of capturing the energy and
excitement of a particular movement that would, essentially, give
rise to an entire sporting sub-culture, and even if you don't know
who's who to begin with, it's quite interesting to hear the various
interviewees reflect on their experiences as youthful skaters, from
the perspective of thirty years later.
Dogtown and Z-Boys appears in
the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which (as far as I can determine) is, in
fact, its correct aspect ratio; it's not pan-and-scanned. The image
quality is good, though it's hard to judge since much of the film
makes use of home-video-type footage from the 1970s, or still
photographs, and there's deliberate use of grainy black-and-white
film for the interviews. But in any case, the overall appearance of
the film is attractive.
The Dolby 5.0 soundtrack does a nice
job of presenting both the music and the voices clearly and cleanly.
Sean Penn's voiceover narration and the various interview subjects
all sound crisp and clean, and they're always correctly balanced with
the music soundtrack. The music is reasonably aggressive in its
immersive feel, and certainly helps create an engaging experience.
French subtitles are also included.
The main thing to point out here is
that there doesn't appear to be much new bonus material for the
Deluxe Edition. As far as I can tell, the only new extras are
promotional features for the feature film Lords of Dogtown: we
get a six-minute sneak peek, two "webisodes," and a trailer
for the film. Other than that, it looks like the same special
features as the earlier Special Edition release.
The most interesting feature is the
commentary track, a lively and informative one from writer/director
Stacy Peralta and editor Paul Crowder. There's also a feature that
you can turn on to access extended "raw footage" at
selected moments throughout the film; if you have the "Freestyle
Experience" turned on, an icon will appear to allow you to press
Enter and see the extended material.
Several deleted scenes are also
included, although these are so raw that they're more like "leftover
material" than actual crafted scenes that were removed from the
film. We get a three-minute alternate ending with Tony Alva in 2000,
a two-minute video stills gallery of the Bicknell Hill session in
1974, a two-minute behind-the-scenes clip prior to Jeff Ho's
interview for the film, and another 2-minute segment of the
filmmakers themselves skateboarding in Mar Vista. This section is
probably only of interest if you're a skateboarder.
A set of trailers appears as well:
Dogtown and Z-Boys, Riding Giants, Lords of Dogtown, XXX,
Boogeyman, DEBS, and The Cave.
Apart from having a more stylish
cover, what does the "Deluxe Edition" of Dogtown and
Z-Boys offer that's different from the earlier Special Edition?
Not much: just some promotional material for the feature film Lords
of Dogtown. Sure, if you're faced with a choice between the two
at the same price, go ahead and pick up the Deluxe Edition, but
there's certainly no need to upgrade.
But in any case, Dogtown and
Z-Boys is worth watching. It's a must-see if you're a
skateboarding fan, but even if you don't know a thing about
skateboarding, Stacy Peralta's engaging documentary style makes the
subject interesting. Recommended.