Movie Review: Dogtown and Z-Boys

By Erik Petersen
Movie Magazine International
“Dogtown and Z-Boys” was directed by Stacy Peralta, former skateboard wunderkind and current filmmaker. His documentary is flat out one of the best films I’ve seen in recent memory. It examines the rise of skateboarding from the epicenter in Venice Beach California during the late 1970’s. The film is a combination of archival footage and current interviews, a “where are they now” format with some fascinating twists and turns.

The movie was narrated by Sean Penn, former Venice Beach surf rat. Despite the often-flat tone of his voice he was and always will be Spicoli and that gives it a special residence that can’t be duplicated. The director also made the choice to leave in some quirky elements such as Mr. Penn’s abrupt throat clearing that add to the guerrilla style of filmmaking and ultimately enhance the experience.

The film begins with a group of pre-adolescent surfers who like to hang out at the Zephyr Surf Shop in Venice. Primarily latchkey kids from working class homes they’re prime candidates for some serious trouble making. Instead they channel their energies first into surfing and later into skateboarding. The surf shop serves as their clubhouse and in many cases surrogate home.

The film follows the kids as they bring their new surfing inspired moves to the world of competitive skateboarding. Their first match has all the drama of the “Bad News Bears” but in this case it’s a true story and these kids have the goods. As skateboarding culture explodes in America the kids are soon faced with some tough choices as marketers rush to exploit the commercial potential. As is often the case in professional sports, the best athletes aren’t always the savviest marketers.

My friend Bernie was doubtful of the movie’s entertainment value. After all during our adolescence when skateboarding was in its hey day he was cultivating his troll doll and “Celebrity Skin” collection. Would the film still have appeal? Like all great documentaries there’s an inherent arc to the film, that regardless of what you were doing in the late Seventies and early Eighties is fascinating.

These kids were all part of something that grew into an industry so much larger than they could’ve ever conceived. It’s also a study in human nature as we see how with chilling efficiency Darwinism kicks in. The strong flourish while the weaker are left behind. And I’m not talking physical skills since they were all incredibly talented but mental, some just couldn’t handle making the leap from a simple childhood pleasure to big business.

“Dogtown and Z-Boys” has some excellent skating footage and a rocking soundtrack. What makes it a great film is how it explores the way some children struggle to grow into adults while others execute the move as gracefully as kickflip. I’m Erik Petersen for Movie Magazine.
More Information:
Dogtown and Z-Boys
USA - 2002