St. Petersburg Times: Weekend

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Indie flicks

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 6, 2002

In the extreme beginning . . .

Dogtown and Z-Boys (PG-13) (89 min.) -- "Dogtown" is a nickname for a patch of Southern California surf side where 30 years ago a motley crew of daredevils dubbed the Z-Boys practically invented today's extreme sports phenomenon. Director Stacy Peralta was a Z-Boy, so the boastful nature of his documentary should be forgiven. But you won't forget it.

Peralta's cutting, zooming style on a skateboard carries over to his movie, interspersing interviews with graying Z-Boys and amazing home movies of them at their peaks. Craig Stecyk and Glen E. Friedman shot miles of footage then because they sensed what the Z-Boys were doing had cultural and athletic ramifications for the future. They were right. Dogtown and Z-Boys rises beyond the mere sports entertainment of the IMAX film Ultimate X to portray a community, its demise and pride rising from the ashes on the scrawny backs of longhaired teens just looking for a place to glide.

Skate parks didn't exist then, so the Z-Boys commandeered swimming pools emptied by California's worst drought ever, going vertical without knowing what heights or maneuvers were possible. Translating the moves of their favorite water surfers to wheels, the Z-Boys revolutionized a fad, immortalized by a series of magazine articles that turned it into a culture cherished by landlocked dreamers such as poet-musician Henry Rollins. Peralta shows us the watershed, a 1975 skateboarding contest where the Z-Boys' aggressive, convention-shattering rides were, as someone remarks, like inviting a hockey team to a figure skating event.

For perspective, Peralta digresses to a brief history of the Dogtown region (Venice, Ocean Park and south Santa Monica), where a bustling boardwalk and amusement park died. Fiercely protective of their turf and surf, Dogtown's slackers use their boards the ways the Jets and Sharks used switchblades, scaring away intruders and showing off to each other. Surf shop owner Jeff Ho recruited the Z-Boys (plus one female) from that rabble to keep them on the streets and promote his business. Ho's eventual wipeout becomes a glaring link between Dogtown economics and sports greed today.

Peralta and editor Paul Crowder assemble this film like one of the Z-Boys' rides, abruptly changing directions, coasting to a terrific soundtrack ranging from Joe Walsh to Herb Alpert, turning any slips into something that looks intended. Sean Penn narrates the movie, which is so casually against the grain that he clears his throat once and Peralta leaves it in.

Dogtown and Z-Boys goes on a bit too long with its self-congratulatory remarks, and separate chapters for two skateboarders Peralta feels were most influential are unnecessary. We expect tragedy, a career-ending accident or something, but apparently, aside from one scraped elbow, the Z-Boys emerged relatively unscathed. Good for them, bad for drama. Still, this is one of the year's best films, and it's already June. A

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