In run-down Dogtown, the Zephyr Team skate empty swimming pools after the surf blows out. This documentary traces the development of skateboarding from the early '70s through to the fame, fortune and eventual fall of some of the team's teenage members.
There are those who believe that documentary's place is on the small screen. Dogtown And Z Boys effortlessly proves them wrong – factual movies can be as exciting, slick and accessible as any other species of celluloid.
Stacy Peralta's film is an exuberant, nostalgic paean to a time, place and a lifestyle. A founding member of the Zephyr Team (Z Boys), Peralta traces the history of the skateboard from its early years as a stalled '60s fad, through to his friends' reinvention of it as an extreme sport with marketing deals and corporate sponsorship. Quite a trip for an activity that only began when the inventive beach-bums found themselves with nothing to do when the surf blew out mid-morning.
There's an engaging rebelliousness to the use of California's infrastructure – the towering waves of playground asphalt and the empty swimming pools of the vacationing middle classes – for a purely hedonistic kick. Peralta matches that kinetic creativity with dynamic, imaginative use of his archival material.
His camera hurtles across the still images, while Sean Penn's deadpan narration, complete with coughs and splutters, is perfectly pitched. It's hardly an unbiased film – it concludes with a sell-out to corporate America and the gentrification of Dogtown's once seedy beachfront. But who doesn't re-edit their own history?
What comes across most poignantly in Peralto's minor masterpiece is the sheer joy of being a member of the coolest gang on the beach, as remembered – and embellished – by a generation of fortysomethings for whom, you suspect, life has never been anywhere nearly as good. A genuine must-see.
Fantastic. Seventies nostalgists will have a field-day and the rest of us can marvel at a set of kids who were so cool they literally flew. Quite possibly the best documentary about youth and sport since Hoop Dreams.
Reviewed by Adam Smith