Professional skateboarder Stacy Peralta's documentary shows the sport from an emotional angle, and presents the athletes first and foremost as people.
“When we got into skating you did not become rich or famous if you were good at skateboarding. No one did. No matter how good you were.” – Tony Hawk
After his brief stint with the innovative Zephyr skate team was cut short in the mid 1970s, professional skateboarder Stacy Peralta dreamed of one day putting together his own skate team, one comprised of the best unknowns in the country. The idea was to pick the ones that, with a bit of work, would develop into world class athletes. The team’s original members included Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Rodney Mullen and Tony Hawk, all of whom would directly contribute to the sport’s development and increased popularity over the next two decades. Peralta decided to document the story of their rise to success in a film, the end result being Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, which made its debut at the Milwaukee Film Festival this past weekend.
After putting together the team, Peralta spent the next few years as their coach, but the team’s celebrity began to fall as quickly as it rose. Skateboarding was viewed as a passing fad, with skate parks getting demolished one by one. The sport was all but forgotten, but the die-hards still found a way to make it work. Soon, skateboarders found themselves driving hours to skate on a home-made backyard ramp, or building their own ramps out of necessity. Others fed up with a lack of skate parks took to the streets, laying the foundation for modern street skating by inventing tricks that have now become a vocabulary for the language of skateboarding.
Over the remainder of the decade, Peralta and Co. used innovative marketing, visual and promotional techniques to help grow the sport into the gigantic industry that it is today. They were the first to make a movie of just skateboarding, a concept that is now a staple of skate culture. They were the first to brand themselves, with each member having their own identity and style. They truly were the first superstars of the sport, and the film documents it all—the hard work, the frustration, the emotional breakdowns—with candid interviews, vintage footage and photographs.
After viewing the trailer, what really struck me is that it seemed to take skateboarding from an emotional angle, an angle that most would never think to look at the sport from. Nearly all of the team’s members were very much of the “nerd” variety in their early adolescence-awkward social outcast-types.
“I was miserable at everything I ever tried to do,” says Lance Mountain in the film. “Skateboarding was the first thing I was ever good at.”
Others used the sport as escapism, giving them the ability to turn their boring New Jersey hometown into their own personal skate park. The earlier quote from Tony Hawk rings true, as there was really no promise of fame and fortune with skateboarding. They did it because they wanted to, or in some cases, because they needed to.
It makes perfect sense, then, that punk rock and skateboarding go hand in hand, as many punk rock bands were comprised of kids from a similar pocket of society, making music that reflected their disillusionment and alienation. My first exposure to pivotal bands like Black Flag, Rites of Spring and Bad Brains came from watching skate videos, and ever since then, I’ve never been able to shake the connection between the two. The film is appropriately accompanied by a soundtrack of choice punk, hardcore and even metal tracks of the time, a fine decision on Peralta’s part.
This is the first time that the sport has been presented with this much heart, showing that there was much more than just “dudes shreddin’ on the streets of Cali” to the Bones Brigade’s rise to the top. While it will no doubt please the skateboarding enthusiast, Bones Brigade : An Autobiography will appeal to a much wider set than most films to tackle the subject, presenting the athletes first and foremost as people. This was fantastic. If you were even mildly interested in seeing this film, go see it. You won’t be let down.
Bones Brigade will screen once more on Sat, Oct. 6 at the Fox-Bay Cinema at 6 p.m.
The Milwaukee Film Festival runs through Oct. 11 at the Oriental Theatre, Downer Theatre and Fox-Bay Cinema. Check out TCD’s Flick by Flick guides for films opening this weekend and throughout October. For more information, visit the MFF website.