FILM REVIEW: Dogtown and Z-Boys

FILM: Dogtown and Z-Boys

FILMMAKER: Stacy Peralta

REVIEWER: Kathleen B. Jones

I am revisiting some of my favorite docs while I’m on the road.  (All praise Netflix Instant!).  Most recently I rewatched every 90s teen punk skateboarder wannabe favorite Dogtown and Z-Boys.  I remember this doc as being super awesome when I first saw it (it was realeased in 2001) but wasn’t sure I wasn’t viewing it through the lens of a 20-something media student who totally like thought boys who skateboarded and listened to Black Flag were like totally hot.  Tastes haven’t changed.  Movie is awesome, still like dude who listens to Black Flag.

Dogtown and Z-Boys is the story of a skater gang from California who defined 70s skateboard culture.   The fact that the filmmaker, Stacy Peralta, was one of the Z-Boys, could have made it suck (there’s a rule about being too close to what your filming), but instead it makes it awesome.  The other members of the team talk to him like a person, like, “you remember how Johnny was” and it makes you the audience feel like you’re a part of the experience.  Like you totally know these guys, even though they would totally never actually talk to you.

Peralta himself appears as one of the interviewed characters, as he should since he was a part of that experience, but he doesn’t narrate. Sean Penn does the narration as an omniscient 3rd person narrator.  So you get to feel how much Peralta is personally involved in the story, and cared about making a great film about an experience he was part of, but it’s not like just wanted to talk about himself.

Now, these were a violent bunch of kids who broke into people’s homes and damaged property and ran from the cops and had a total subculture to themselves.  As adults, they don’t lie about it, or hide from it.  The interview with Jay Adams whose life after the crew broke up descended into drugs and jail is a really powerful experience.

It’s a great film, with an authentic voice, great story, thoughtful filmmaker, fantastic historical footage and kind of inspiring subtext.  Kids follow their passion and achieve greatness, with some consequences attached.  They are a totally multi-cultural crew, and they had a chick on their team.  I dug it so much I think I’m actually going to buy it and it will be one of the few docs I keep around to watch over and over again and analyze.   I’m giving it one less than five stars because there were a couple interviews I couldn’t figure out – like why Henry Rollins was in it.

I found the Z-Boys story and Peralta as a filmmaker intriguing. I’m also really interested in seeing what Peralta did next, which was make a film about the Crips and Bloods.  I’m interested in seeing how his life story as part of a gang helps to inform his choices as a filmmaker.  So hopefully I’ll watch that next week.

Four out of five stars.

Katy B. Jones


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