LORDS OF DOGTOWN (Catherine Hardwicke, 2005)
With his 2001 documentary DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS Stacy Peralta recounted the days he and his skateboarding friends revolutionized the sport in 1970s Venice, California. Now he’s written LORDS OF DOGTOWN, a fictionalized account of that time brought to the screen by director Catherine Hardwicke. Skateboarding was stodgy until the Zephyr team, including future superstars Peralta and Tony Alva, showed off their surfing-inspired moves. A drought left many pools empty but gave the Z-boys the perfect place to hone their skills and styles.
LORDS OF DOGTOWN is a kinetic film that glides along on the heels of the boys’ boards. Propelled by a pounding classic rock soundtrack, the sharp sounds of wheels on hard surfaces, and camerawork that often grants a subjective perspective, the film captures the visceral experience of skateboarding. Purely as a study in speed and movement, LORDS OF DOGTOWN is a gnarly ride. Character depth suffers, subsisting on distilled adolescent energy and hormones, but Emile Hirsch brings power to his role as a Zephyr team member who resents the success of Peralta and Alva. Heath Ledger plays the surf shop owner who organizes the Zephyr team and initially capitalizes on them. For his performance he seems to be channeling Val Kilmer, a move that’s neither good nor bad but definitely amusing. Hardwicke’s last film, THIRTEEN, was a hysteria-infused depiction of troubled teens and their ineffective or absent parents. (As the elegantly wasted mother of Hirsch’s character Rebecca De Mornay is practically a carbon copy of Holly Hunter in THIRTEEN.) Although she brings the same worldview to LORDS OF DOGTOWN, it’s less problematic since this film is a snapshot of a particular time and place, not a sweeping statement about the nation’s youth. In deifying the skateboarders LORDS OF DOGTOWN tends to gloss over the trouble that some of the Z-boys got themselves into. Peralta’s documentary more completely chronicles the Z-boys’ stories, but LORDS OF DOGTOWN stands as a worthy companion piece.
(Review first aired in a shorter version on the June 7, 2005 NOW PLAYING)