AN EMPIRE OF WORDS

Lords of Dogtown (2005)

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After watching this film a while ago, I recently rewatched this and simply think it’s an enjoyable film that should be shared with everyone. Lords of Dogtown is a story of the West Coasts love affair with all things moving. With the aid of their much inebriated team manager, four members of Zephyr skateboarding team become accidental pioneers for the scene.

However, Lords of Dogtown doesn’t typically start with skateboarding. It rather starts with the four kids, trying to surf the infamous ‘Cove’, only to be shunned away Skip Engblom (Heath Ledger) and his bunch of cronies. Skip, who runs his own surf shop, is given some polyurethane wheels, and Sid (one of the four friends, at the centre of this story) presents these wheels to his friends. And thus the dynamic of this story is changed.

Their love of surfing is quickly changed into a love for skateboarding after Skip creates his own skateboarding competition team, the famous Zephyr Skateboarding Team. However, Stacy Peralta (John Robinson) is initially left out of the team after Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) outshine him in the early stages.

Excellently, the film keeps the skateboarding scenes entertaining with the quick cuts, but also impressive use of music during the triumphant rise to power the Zephyr team undergo. The key to remember is that this film is set in the early 1970s, so it features a raw use of skateboarding, not the shredding skateboarding skills we’re used to seeing from the likes of Tony Hawk, Bam Margera and so on, so forth. But this is why these kids are considered the pioneers due to the fact they started a motion of events to bring about the famous skateboards my generation know.

The swimming pool sessions are particularly entertaining as the team continually try to outdo each other and scouting missions to try and find bigger and emptier pools. This also attributes to their fame as they begin featuring in magazines and getting noticed by the bigger skateboarding companies. As the film documents this, it also shows the varying opinions from the three main boys as Tony Alva wants to be famous, Stacy trying a more low-key approach to this whereas Jay simply wants to enjoy what they’re doing irregardless of fame.

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During a party at Skip’s, Tony Alva is recruited by Topper Burks (Johnny Knoxville) and thus begins the unravelling of the the Zephyr skate team. As the story quickens and each of the team branch out and reach fame, the story quickens and matches the pace of the film during the swimming pool sessions.

In my honest opinion, I believe this to be the wrong choice as the story of the members leaving the Zephyr team is glazed over, much like the relationships between Stacy, Tony and Jay and of course with their much-inenibrated … I’m not sure. Role model? Father figure? Leader? I’m truly at a loss how to describe the relationship between the team and Skip other than the man that takes them to the competitions. I believe the film had room to improve on the relationships throughout the film, rather than focus on the blossoming rivalry between Tony and Stacy. (this rivalry was probably not helped by Skip, considering he picks Tony and not Stacy to begin with – he may have even started it, but he certainly added fuel)

As I mentioned the soundtrack is worked fantastically. It isn’t too overpowering on the film, but works perfectly and gives that Southern Californian mindset for the young, rebellious teenagers of the time period. Mixed in during the skateboarding and surfing adventures throughout the film, it makes for a thoroughly entertaining ride.

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(Next part may contain spoilers) 

This is the same for the story of Jay’s closer friend in the latter stages of the film, Sid (Michael Angarano) as their relationships seemingly becomes a strong bond that doesn’t seem to be shown on screen, rather the competitions between Alva and Peralta take up more than enough screen time. Sid’s story is actually one of the sadder parts to the film, due to the circumstances, but makes the film become full circle, as it gives the excuse to show the follow ons after what were called The Dogbowl Sessions (which was actually just Sid’s fathers pool drained).

(End of potential spoilers – Just watch the film before reading this!)

Was Lords of Dogtown groundbreaking for 2005 cinema? Probably not. (I mean I didn’t hear about this film til it popped up on my netflix a year or two ago) but was it entertaining with a interesting look at the 1970s Californian lifestyle or surfing and skating underneath the sun. It’s also a chance to see a young Emile Hirsch sport a shaven head and Tony Hawk fall off a skateboard in an awesome cameo appearance.

7/10.

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Author: Nathan Harris

Currently studying Film & Television studies and Media Writing at Derby University. Hopefully wanting to become a film critic/journalist.

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