Those for whom skateboarding is a higher calling won't want to miss Dogtown and Z-Boys, Stacy Peralta's documentary about a group of guys (and one gal, Peggy Oki) who revolutionized the sport back in the '70s. Just when it looked like skateboards were going the way of the yo-yo and the hula hoop, God himself smiled on the teens and preteens of Dogtown ' the seedy part of Venice, Santa Monica and Ocean Park north of L.A. ' inflicting a drought that emptied the area's swimming pools. This left dozens, if not hundreds, of below-ground skate parks. And like creatures making the evolutionary leap from sea to land, the Z-Boys, named for their allegiance to a local surf shop, traded in their surfboards for skateboards and started carving the air with moves that sent the sport into another dimension ' i.e., vertical.
Oh, and did I mention that they did it with a superior sense of style? Peralta, who bills himself as "the first Z-Boy to systematically capitalize on his reputation with lucrative sponsorship and advertising deals," sees skateboarding as less a hobby than a career, less a sport than an art form. And so he's given the Z-Boys the mythological treatment, turning their achievements into a rags-to-riches story that Horatio Alger, had he been partial to the concrete wave, would have felt right at home with. The Z-Boys, most of them from lower-class homes, put everything they had into skateboarding, and what they had, in addition to a surfer's inner gyroscope, was attitude. One minute they were busting a move, the next they were busting your chops, especially if you were standing between them and a swimming pool left unattended.
Peralta had a veritable tsunami of images to draw on ' film, video, stills. And what keeps the documentary gliding along are the countless clips of yesterday's legends establishing their credentials. What slows it down, even causes it to swallow water on occasion, are those same legends, most of them now in their 40s, listing those same credentials. That Dogtown and Z-Boys is an act of self-mythologizing becomes clear when Peralta is interviewed, presumably by himself. And that it's a glorified infomercial becomes clear when the credits list Vans, a sportswear and apparel manufacturer, as the chief source of financing. Although narrated by Sean Penn in a monotone, the Dogtown story is a wonderfully exciting one -' as American as apple pie. But perhaps Peralta shouldn't be the one with his finger in this pie.