Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001) - Synopsis

Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001) - Synopsis ImageThe high-flying, thrashing and grinding "vert" style of skateboarding is so ubiquitous, now, such a defining iconic element of international kid culture (and such a huge corporate money-spinner), that it may be hard to accept the fact that it did not spring full-blown from the fertile brain of some conglomerate skateboard manufacturer. In fact, you will be glad to learn, it was invented in the street, in a place called Dogtown in Southern California, "where the debris meets the sea. "

There in the early 1970s, a group of ragtail teenage surf punks, the Z-Boys, took their clunky early skateboards onto asphalt-banked school playgrounds and bone-dry swimming pools, and learned to "carve" these three-dimensional terrains in new ways, gravitating instinctively to a fluid, surfing-influenced style that was sensuous, stylish, and improvisational. In so doing they created not just a new field of athletic endeavor but a new hard-edged ethos forged on the wrong side of a tough town, a lifestyle whose influence has extended far beyond the surfing and skating subcultures.

By their very nature, true ground-level subculture movements evolve in darkness, out of sight of the mainstream. Almost by definition they are underground phenomena. Whether we're talking about the creation of reggae music in Kingston or the rise of the computer hacker matrix in cyberspace, these phenomena tend to burst upon mainstream consciousness when they're already fully formed, hitting us between the eyes as if they'd sprung up overnight. The formative years of the new form of misbehavior are lost in the mists of time, unrecorded and undocumented, leaving behind only whispered legends and apocryphal tall-tales.

The Z-Boys certainly had that kind of right-between-the-eyes impact, catching the mainstream skating world off guard at the epochal Bahne-Cadillac Skateboard Championship (the so-called "Del Mar Nationals") in 1975, where as the Jeff Ho & Zephyr Productions Surf Shop skateboard team they made their first big public splash. To the old-guard 60s-style skaters at that event, who were still doing wobbly handstands and wheelies on their skittering boards, these wild kids with their riffing, jamming, low-slung style really did seemed to explode out of nowhere.
Within a year, however, the aggressive Dogtown style, and the pugnacious fuck-off-and-die attitude that went with it, had come to dominate the sport, and its young masters, Jay Adams, Tony Alva and
Stacy Peralta, were international teenaged demi-gods, relishing a rock-star lifestyle.

The origin of modern skateboarding are unique among subcultural explosions in at least one respect. Most of the formative events that led up to the Z-Boys paradigm-shattering 1975 professional debut had already been captured in still photographs and movies by photojournalists Craig Stecyk and Glen E. Friedman. And today those events are still fresh in the memories of the pioneering skaters who were there.

In Dogtown and Z-Boys two of the original Dogtown homeboys, Peralta and Stecyk, have artfully interwoven those riveting vintage images of skaters and skate spots of the past and a wealth of new interview material, creating a multi-layered eyewitness account of the birth traumas of modern skateboarding.

Dogtown and Z-Boys chronicles the overnight impact of the Zephyr team on skateboarding in the early 1970s, and the eventual collapse of the team later in the same decade, as the individual team members split off and went their own way. Some (like Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta) became superstar skaters and successful entrepreneurs whose influence in the field has been on-going. Others quietly used the fruits of skating fame to capitalize new career departures.

Director Peralta, working with producer Agi Orsi and co-screenwriter Craig Stecyk, does such a clear and thorough job of delineating all the factors that had to come together to make the Dogtown phenomenon possible (in the mid-70s even the Southern California Weather Gods seemed to be in the Z-Boys corner) that he raises some troubling questions: what might have happened to these often troubled, aimless kids if these highly-contingent factors hadn't fallen into place just so? This nagging question finds at least a partial answer when the film examines the self-destructive trajectory traveled by the Z-Boy who may have been the most gifted and influential of them all, Jay Adams, who is currently serving time in a correctional facility in Hawaii.

Dogtown and Z-Boys, directed and co-written by skateboard legend-turned-filmmaker Stacy Peralta, is the story of a group of accidental revolutionaries, gifted kids who inadvertently changed the world by doing what came naturally. It is also a unique documentary event: a ground-level, eyewitness account of the birth of an organic American pop culture phenomenon.