Sidewalk Surfin’: Catherine Hardwicke’s Lords Of Dogtown (2005) – Blu-ray review
A filmed memoir that drags you along in its slipstream with an exuberant sense of teenage freedom – and the cinematic style to match.
Lords Of Dogtown
(Catherine Hardwicke, 2005)
Skateboarding is one of the most cinematic of sports. Not only does it thrive on the exhilaration of movement, but it’s also something that requires steadfast dedication, patience and the willingness to keep trying again and again until you get it right. Put these things together, and it’s no surprise that the hurtling momentum and rhythmic editing of the skating sequences in Lords Of Dogtown have an indelible grace.
Of course, it also makes the film look somewhat like a skateboarding video with the bonus of celluloid’s grain – which is no bad thing because this is a film by the fans, for the fans. Skateboard supremo Stacy Peralta turned filmmaker had already made documentary Dogtown And Z-Boys about his legendary teenage years as one of the sport’s pioneers. His screenplay for this film is, essentially, the same story with the mythmaking dialled up to 11.
Does it work for non-believers? Surprisingly, yes. While the details of the sport are sketchy, Catherine Hardwicke brings an infectious energy to proceedings, taking the never-give-up attitude of her debut Thirteen and adding a semi-ironic vision of male bonding. The twin models are Boogie Nights and Dazed And Confused; this has the subcultural detail of the former and the laidback drift of the latter, although the lack of a critical distance in the writing means it never quite matches these classics.
Still, there’s plenty of interest, with Hardwicke’s camera attuned to the sport’s roots in poverty in a dead-end coastal town where there’s nowhere to go except up and down an improvised turnpike. At its best, it’s as strong on the ties between geographical stasis and cultural innovation as 8 Mile. The film’s most memorable sequence shows the skaters sneaking into back gardens during a summer drought to skate in empty swimming pools – a symbol of class outsiderdom to rival the Burt Lancaster film The Swimmer.
It only falls apart, as films of this nature tend to do, when fame strikes and old friendships are sundered by money, rivalry and self-destruction. The overfamiliarity of the narrative retrospectively makes the highs of the Z-Boys look insignificant – arguably, the formulaic arc fails at the fundamental task of truly explaining what made these boys so radical.
Still, as an immersive vision of being in the gang, it’s helped enormously by good casting. While Emile Hirsch was a big deal back then, and John Robinson – as Peralta – was then familiar from Elephant, neither they nor Victor Rasuk, as the third in the trio, have fulfilled their promise. A decade later, it really helps cement the film’s sense of this being a youngsters’ film about youngsters’ passions. And the elegiac quality that Heath Ledger brings to his role, as the surf-dude-Falstaff who is ultimately betrayed by his princes, gets an added layer of melancholy knowing that he would be dead within a few years of this film’s release.