Alright, alright, let's get this elephant out of the damn room. Every single time I claim this title as a "favourite", someone is bound to come along as say "the documentary is better". That being said, I generally agree that if you want to be educated about the legendary Z-Boys, who more or less invented modern skateboarding, the documentary, 'Dogtown and Z-Boys', narrated by Sean Penn, is the place to go. However, sometimes we want to see such stories adapted to film. So if you're anything like me in that sense, and you want to take a fun trip back to the somewhat darker side of the 70s with a good story, then there's still nothing wrong with 'Lords of Dogtown' - written by Stacy Peralta, himself.
My connection to skateboarding is... unusual. As far as I can tell, any sort of fascination for it came from how "cool" it always looked in things like 'Ninja Turtles', 'The Simpsons' and 'Back to the Future 2' (I mean, it was a Hoverboard). From there, I'd even go so far as to use my imagination during play, to make a single Lego brick into some kind of "hoverboard" device of my own. Eventually, after trying it out several times and often falling on my ass, I learned that it wasn't for me and basically left it alone. I had a bike, so that was just fine. But then, 1999 happened, and I received a demo for 'Tony Hawk's Pro Skater' through Playstation Magazine, back when I was a subscriber. I didn't think much of it until a friend wanted to play the demo with me. He kept beating me, so I practiced and got significantly better. Eventually, of course, I bought the game, and it has since been a staple in my gaming library.
Anyway, back to the point of this write-up, this movie was released with almost perfect timing, as my enjoyment of skateboarding was pretty much at its peak. While it remained true that I couldn't actually do it to save my life, I was nevertheless fascinated by what these people could do. It wasn't kicking a ball back and forth, it wasn't running around a field. It was defying physics and showing us that (despite a broken limb or five) the extreme side of skateboarding was there to show us that the seemingly impossible could be achieved. Not many ever illustrated that better than Tony Hawk and his famous 900. But when this movie came along, what fascinated me the most was that I finally had a chance to see what started it all. I was never great at history, but this was a lesson I really wanted to pay attention to.
Sadly, I ended up missing this one in theaters, and can't really remember why. Nevertheless, I did catch it upon its DVD release and enjoyed it enough to buy it almost instantly (along with the documentary, because I did want a full education). A lot of it surprised me as far as fate actually being a thing throughout. The primary example has to do with the drought at the time, draining swimming pools throughout the neighbourhood, providing these kids with the perfect places to skate on their new polyurethane wheels. These pools provided these kids with a playground, and it all fits in with the rebellious nature of skateboarding, as this was all breaking and entering. These kids were seen as "no good punks", but they were really making a name for themselves under everyones radars.
Despite a fairly long list of Z-Boys, the central focuses of this story are on Stacy Peralta (John Robinson), Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and perhaps one of my all-time faves, Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch). It does a fine job from their perspectives, highlighting their personality types, and allowing us to appreciate each of them in their own way. Stacy represents a sort of underdog who wants to make a name for himself but wants to do it with honesty and integrity. Tony is the extreme competitor who will settle for nothing less than #1 when it comes to his skateboarding style. Jay is the guy who is in skateboarding for the fun and freedom of it, and doesn't see selling out so easily. It's quite tragic that he had to travel down the path he did, but when you look back at his career, you can almost say that he was what skateboarding was all about in the first place - in a word, "freedom".
Speaking of sad and tragic, let's just talk about Heath Ledger here for a second. While everyone (at the time) seemed to be questioning his eventual role as The Joker in 2008's 'The Dark Knight', I was one of few on the sidelines saying "give him a chance!" (and I think the majority of us are glad we did). That was largely due to his role here as Skip Engblum - the founder of the Z-Boys. There was something about his performance here that was a little bit whacky, and as a result, I thought immediately that he could pull off the Joker. I will admit I thought it might have been a touch different, but he remains one of the big favourites on the list of Joker portrayals. It just goes to show that maybe we should check out more obscure works before we think things like "the pretty-boy guy from '10 Things I Hate About You'?"
To top everything off on this gem, it has a killer soundtrack. It may not quite be 'Dazed & Confused', but you've got all the right names here - especially for the subject matter. Hendrix - 'Voodoo Child', Foghat - 'I Just Wanna Make Love to You', Alice Cooper - 'Long Way to Go', Joe Walsh - 'Turn to Stone', Black Sabbath - 'Iron Man', my God, the list does go on. You could pair this soundtrack with 'Dazed & Confused' and have yourself a pretty solid 70s party. Anyway, with the music, the attitude and the atmosphere this movie has, it does take us back to a particular point and location in history that would change the face of skateboarding forever.