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  • Gareth Crook

Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)

Some films just ooze cool. Dogtown and Z-Boys is the very definition of mid-70s California cool. This is one of those docs I’ve been meaning to watch for years and it doesn’t disappoint. Dogtown is an area of LA. The Z-Boys a bunch of kids with long hair, a thing for skate boarding, an eye for the perfect location and a blatant disregard of the rules. It’s the sort of world that effortlessly pulls you in. It looks FUN. It’s exciting, revolutionary, people living a punk rock counter culture exhistence. Born out surfing and the slum around them. “When the waves weren’t good, we skate”. It’s that environment of decay that turns Dogtown into a playground. The style of the production follows a similar vein. It’s choppy, simple, accessible. Written and directed by those same kids we see on the screen, it’s honest. It’s not all stoner cool though. These guys were aggressive, protective, a crew of street kids in a local scene. Impenetrable. Narrated by Sean Penn, soundtracked with Hendrix, Sabbath, Floyd, Stooges, it feels dangerous. It also looks a bit messy. Grainy archive and almost as grainy talking heads, smashed together in a chaotic 4:3 scratched and faded harmony. Raw, Penn clearing his throat mid take and laughter off camera. There’s a natural ease to it, the sort of Americana that’s easily to idolise. Packed with sun-drenched style. “Going big worked, but only if you looked good doing it” and boy do they. Long indulgent montages roll with gorgeous cinematic flair. The early 70s California drought is the real ignition. The swimming pools run dry and the Z-Boys move in. Driving clapped out Chevy’s, trunks full of hoses, pumps and shovels to make even the most derelict pool skatable. The effort and commitment is astonishing. Totally illegal. Skate til you hear the sirens. The enthusiasm is infectious. “You come off a heavy grind and all your bro’s are hootin’”. They’re the outsiders, screwing with convention. Upsetting but winning over the purists. Gaining recognition, but with the success that comes, follows a fracturing of the core of the scene, between those that saw commercial possibility... and those who just wanted to have fun. I guess every sweet story has an underbelly and this rides the arc of its narrative beautifully.



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