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.