If you think a documentary about the birth of modern skateboarding sounds like something worth missing, think again. This inventive film is a brilliantly assembled look both at the history and at the specific people involved. Dogtown was a rundown neighbourhood between Santa Monica and Venice in the early 1970s, where a group of daredevil surfers started pushing their skateboards to the limit when they weren’t thrashing their surfboards against the decrepit pilings of the Pacific Ocean Park pier. By “surfing” found architecture (steep streets, slopes of concrete, empty swimming pools), they completely reinvented the sport, converting it from horizontal sidewalks to vertical halfpipes.
Director Paralta is one of the original Zephyr Team members, so there’s a real sense that this doc is an inside job, complete with a seemingly inflated sense of the group’s importance. But what they did was truly groundbreaking. And the film fearlessly gets under the skin of the people involved, not only gathering terrific anecdotes, but capturing their personalities and inner thoughts on camera. This makes it not only a detailed historical document, but an engaging and moving portrait of a subculture. And it’s put together with a real visual flair, using unusual editing, insightful narration (by Sean Penn), clever graphics and, most impressively, making the large number of still images seem to move with electric energy. It’s definitely worth looking for. And not just because I was born in Dogtown.