Lords of Dogtown (directed by Catherine Hardwicke) explores the early lives of pro skaters Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk), Stacy Peralta (John Robinson) and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch). Written by the real life Stacy Peralta, the biopic covers the banding of the Zephyr competition team under tyrannical and constantly drunk and/or stoned Skip Engblom (the late Heath Ledger). ‘Dogtown’ also known as Venice Beach, California plays an integral part in the film, and is the pre existing backdrop of the omnipresent street skating culture that we know today. Lords of Dogtown is a looking glass back to the youth culture of the early seventies. Complete with drink, drugs and teenage angst, we follow the characters as they deal with with fame, success and the ego that comes with.
Venice Beach shone in the film as pert near a living breathing character amongst all others. The on location shoots were meticulously styled, the concrete smoggy wasteland as gritty and harsh as the characters. The socio-economic context of the characters was a massive driving point for the ‘make or break’ high stakes of the film, driving a lot of the characters’ inner tension to a peak.
The cast was very well selected, with Ledger coming forth as a fleshed out and complete anti-hero. The writing of the other main characters held an obvious bias— written by Stacy himself, each character other than himself had inescapable and obvious flaws. Another downfall of the film was director Catherine Hardwicke’s extremely cinematic approach which conflicted with the laid back documentary style of the film. The extreme close up reaction shots of the characters was grating, whereas the wide shots of the characters were impact filled and aesthetically pleasing.
Further, the well styled and era appropriate cars, clothes, skateboards and even drinks made the movie a successful and relatable look into Dogtown in the early seventies. Running at 107 minutes, Lords of Dogtown has no obvious lull— interesting from start to finish with some beautifully pulled off surf and skate videography. The film earns its title as a cult classic in skate culture and is a very commendable and important film in marking the history of street and vertical skating.
A selection of artefacts from this film and many others are a part of the exhibit ‘Heath Ledger: A Life in Pictures’ running at The Art Gallery of Western Australia until January.