I’m watching 365 documentaries and writing about each one in 2014. Tweet your suggestions to @documentarysite, or send an e-mail to email@example.com. Read more.
Note: This post may contain spoilers.
Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001) is Stacy Peralta’s tribute and history to skateboarding and the Zephyr team of southern California during the 1970s. Situating the history within the Dogtown part of Los Angeles, this documentary traces the rise of the sport and this unique team.
Most of the storytelling occurs through interviews with the dozen members of the team, shop owners, and press. Each team member had his or her own style, but their styles collectively drew on moves used in the surfing culture. Instead of remaining standing while performing their moves, these skaters would touch the ground and remain low.
Not surprisingly, the skate culture also had an attitude about it. During a drought in the 1970s, these skaters honed their skills in drained swimming pools, which they drained and used without the owners’ permission. During the first revival contest in 1975, this team debuted their style, and in doing so they put their mark on the emerging national sport. Several of them went on to gain success through corporate partnerships, further competition, and their own product lines.
While Peralta directs this documentary, he also was a member of that team. Interviews with him as a talking head appear throughout the documentary, but they do not dominate the story. His interviews are integrated without comment to his director status, a move that some might find odd.
While the interviews and the archival footage make for a compelling story, the music throughout this piece is amazing: surf rock, classic rock, and even opera underscore the visuals throughout. The music licenses for this documentary must have cost a fortune.
One thing that could have been omitted from this piece was Sean Penn’s narration. The interviews themselves offer so much information and observation already that the voiceover felt like too much.