Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Bones Brigade: An Autobiography (2012)

I have never been a majorly sporty guy. Never. I could sometimes kick a ball, but it wasn't passed to me too often. As I was growing up I preferred solo pursuits, probably because I was an only child, and instead of being interested in football or rugby when it was shown on the TV I would look forward to staying up late and watching snooker or darts. Not really the most energetic activities. I didn't have sporting heroes that I idolised, I didn't see the point in worshiping someone who played for any team that would pay them the most money and I certainly didn't have anyone that I wanted to emulate. My heroes were great actors and great writers with not a sportsman/woman in sight. Well . . . . . . . . . . . except for the skateboarders. I had a skateboard and I loved it. Pretty much everyone picked up a skateboard again after Back To The Future was released. Unfortunately, I was rubbish. That didn't stop me watching the folk who could use theirs to amaze crowds. The skateboarders who could defy gravity and, it seemed, many other laws of physics. I wanted so badly to be able to do what they did and, best of all, they really seemed to love doing it. Skateboarding wasn't just a sport or an activity, it seemed to me to be a lifestyle choice. I wanted it so bad that I could taste it. This documentary, from Stacy Peralta (who also gave audiences the superb Dogtown And Z-Boys), looks at the men who were brought together and pretty much created modern skateboarding as we know it today. It looks at some of my heroes.

Peralta himself is the main figurehead of this story, but he's the man who made it all happen while standing behind his team as opposed to someone front and centre for the duration of the tale. And what a tale it is. In the 1980s, Peralta gathered together a group of young men and made them into a skateboarding team. They were collectively known as the Bones Brigade, but individually they were named Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Tommy Guerrero, Rodney Mullen and Tony Hawk. They all brought something different to the team (Lance Mountain, for example, seems to remain unsure of just what he brought in terms of skill, but certainly helped with his personality and humour while Rodney Mullen has to be seen freestyling to be believed) and they would dominate, and also reinvigorate, the sport for over a decade.

I'm not going to say that this documentary is so good that even those who have no interest whatsoever in skateboarding will enjoy it, but I am going to say that even those who have no interest whatsoever in skateboarding should at least give it a watch and see what they think of it. I knew (or, rather, hoped) that I would enjoy this, but I wasn't prepared for just how it affected me.

Peralta has a wealth of archive footage at his disposal and uses appropriate soundtrack cues for each main sequence. It's pulse-quickening stuff, witnessing history as it happened and seeing this amazing story unfold. I could feel the hairs rising on the back of my arms, and I'm not the most hirsute man that you could ever meet. But it's in the quieter, talking head moments that the power of the tale being told by those who lived through it really builds up into quite a potent elixir. Everyone has their piece of the picture to contribute, but the most amazing moments come from Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain and Rodney Mullen.

Hawk is now, I think it's safe to say, the most famous skateboarder ever, but that came at a heavy price. He was despised by many in the community for years. He was viewed as nothing more than a circus performer, he was a technical whizz with no style and he was also the son of two people who worked for skateboarding competitions in an official capacity. The fact that he started to win everything, and then just kept on winning, didn't help either. The pressure he put on himself was hard to keep up and, inevitably, there was a breaking point, which is covered here.

Lance Mountain, on the other hand, was never a technical whizz and didn't even know why he was on the team. Thankfully, he stayed on the team and when videos started to be made Lance would agree to all of the antics and became the default star of the show. He made the sport fun and accessible, but the documentary probes his darker side and how he developed from group goofball to integral team member.

Last, but by no means least, is Rodney Mullen. His story may be one of the most amazing and heart-achingly painful that I've ever heard. I have no doubt in my mind that Mullen is some kind of genius, but he's tortured with it. Awkward, quietly spoken, seemingly still pained by many memories, Mullen comes out with some of the documentary's most profound moments without seeming pretentious or self-absorbed. He's a fascinating character and an amazing skateboarder and almost every time the film returned to focus on him I was genuinely, deeply, moved.

I've probably gone on a little bit more than I usually do here, but the film deserves it. I hope that others see it and love it as much as I do. It may even be slightly better than the fantastic Dogtown And Z-Boys, but I'm going to take the easy option just now and say that it's too close to call. Regardless, it comes highly recommended.



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