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Lords of Dogtown
Taking Venice to Hollywood
by Ryan Wiederkehr on Jun 03, 2005
At the center of Catherine Hardwicke's (Thirteen) latest film -- Lords of Dogtown -- is the eternal struggle between selling out and keeping true to oneself. That it happens to revolve around a crew of troubled skateboarders from Venice is the added bonus that not only promises to draw kids and thirtysomethings alike to theaters this summer, but also serves, in part, as the heart of the debate between keeping it real and going Hollywood.
Stacy Peralta (played by John Robinson), Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch), and Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) make up the triumvirate of skate kings that came up in the late seventies in Venice, California, back when bars in Venice didn't require shiny shoes and striped shirts to get in. It was a rough existence, and the kids found their happiness on surfboards and skateboards, and they forged a rough family (despite coming from predominantly broken homes) around the Zephyr Surf Shop. The father of this family, and of the Zephyr Skate Team, is good-natured surfboard shaper Skip (Heath Ledger).
On a side note, one thing I was very happy about was the way in which the costume department robbed Heath Ledger of his roguishly good looks. Skip is a shaggy drunk of a man, and his costume features the most laughable set of false front teeth since Matt Dillon's choppers in There's Something About Mary. Here's a clue to all of you casting people: Ledger is eye candy. He is not the finest actor of our time. In fact, watching Ledger try and act like surf board shaper Skip is like watching Ledger doing Val Kilmer doing Johnny Depp doing Keith Richards: it borders upon clownish.
Back to the plot. If all of this sounds familiar, then you were either a hardcore kid who followed the Zephyr skate team (and later the Bones Brigade) or you've seen the 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, which chronicles these kids and their extended skate family. Incidentally, Stacy Peralta, who directed Dogtown and Z-Boys, penned the script for Lords of Dogtown.
Stacy, Jay, and Tony all contributed to the revolution of skateboarding, and what's more, the skateboard industry. And as such, when skateboarding became a craze, they all became targets. Herein lies the meta-drama, or the play within the play. Big money skate companies lured them away from their family-style Zephyr Skate Team. When the big money comes calling, the family falls apart.
Tony is lured into the party scene by Topper Burks (Johnny Knoxville looking just like Kid Rock with a bad wig). Stacy signs with G&S skateboards and travels around the world skating. Jay Adams, though, who could very well have been the most talented skater of the three, slips into drugs, alcohol, and hanging out with the proverbial wrong crowd. The question then becomes, which is worse? The kids that sell out, forget about the purity of the sport, or the kids that don't take the money and end up broke and unhappy, though they stay true to the grassroots origins of skating? Tony and Stacy obviously think the latter, while Jay cannot hide his sneer whenever the talk moves to skate competitions and traveling around the world. He'd rather skate at the mall.
In that same vein, which is the better tale to tell: the grainy, true to life documentary that Peralta made in 2001, or the flashy, Hollywood version of the tale -- stylized and fictionalized?
To be completely honest, I was skeptical of the Hollywood version, and was almost dreading the glossy surface that I thought would cover the story of the Z-Boys. But Catherine Hardwicke tries her best to keep it real. Lords of Dogtown is gritty and at times very funny and very sad, and I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would. However, I don't think I can actually recommend it to everyone. It's entertaining enough, and if you like skating or just feel the need to see what Hollywood does with a good historical story from our time, by all means, check it out.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
by Ryan Wiederkehr on Jun 03, 2005
Emile Hirsch as Jay, image courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Heath Ledger as Skip, image courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk and John Robinson, image courtesy of Columbia Pictures