“Dogtown and Z-boys” spits in your face, makes you give a s**t about people who don’t give a s**t about you. It’s a punk rock look at the birth of modern day skateboarding in Southern California.
The film is about Dogtown; a slum between Santa Monica and Venice populated by tribal surfers; a group soon known as the Zephyr team. Not content with the thrills of the deadly breaks of surfing — the off-hours were filled with constructing new skateboards — the Z-boys turned to skateboarding.
If you’re like me, you’ve stifled the occasional laugh watching skate slackers wipe out on the mere parking barrier. Yet guys like Tony Alva and Bob Biniak used surf moves and translated them to the then-mundane sport of skateboarding, influencing the likes of future thrashers such as Tony Hawk. The film itself has an unparallelled intimacy, cribbed together from interviews and home movies of some of the best early skate footage ever. The film never lags, and is constantly throwing photos, home movies and interviews at you with Sean Penn’s narration (the film’s rough sensibility is personified when Penn flubs his voice-over and just keeps going). The Z-boys didn’t care about outsiders. They emptied people’s pools to skate in while creating a new style that brought skateboarding back to prominance. Some of them grew to rock star fame, while others simply wanted to stay in the background and have fun.
The film is directed by Stacy Peralta, himself a founding Z-boy and the source of the film’s potentcy. Rather than remain an objective observer, Peralta’s vision becomes the ultimate insider’s view. Peralta packs the film with a blitzerkrieg of imagery, backgrounded by the backyard SoCal sounds of Zepplin, Cooper and Sabbath. The punk asethtic bleeds from the film, but the energy and construction of it fascinates beyond its subject matter. It’s an entertaining study for anyone, as it makes you believe that skateboarding is the ultimate guerilla sport — taking something that exists and is shrugged off and turning it into something amazing. It’s great documentary filmmaking.