Today skateboarding is omnipresent. In the early '80s, popular skateboarder Stacy Peralta brought a profoundly talented group of outsiders together. Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerrero and Mike McGill became the most competitively dominant skateboard team in history – called the Bones Brigade. Unmotivated by fame or popularity, but through passion, drive and creativity, they completely dedicated their lives to a disrespected art form. This documentary chronicles their epic rise, using awesome archival footage and moving first-person accounts from all six core Brigade members and many others.
TILT EXTREME SPORTS FILM FESTIVAL: A comprehensive look at the skateboarding team that helped make the sport into an industry 30 years ago, Bones Brigade confirms Stacey Peralta – himself a champion skater and central figure, perhaps too central, of the era – as skateboarding’s historian. Amidst the archival images and loose video footage he’s found the beginnings of an American age, one where the outsiders and misfits became stars and changed the intimate world that they deeply loved.
Peralta built Bones Brigade to last
Bones Brigade is an unofficial sequel to 2001’s Dogtown and Z-Boys, a ragged, inspiring documentary about the Venice Beach surfers – Peralta among them – who revolutionised skateboarding in the 1970s. (It was later compressed into the benign Catherine Hardwicke feature Lords of Dogtown in 2005.) The new documentary sticks to the 1980s, when Peralta put together a team of promising young amateurs to promote a fledgling manufacturing company, Peralta Powell, which he founded with hardware designer George Powell.
Obviously Peralta is telling a story he was an integral part of. He doesn’t eulogise himself, although the grown men he nurtured as adolescents speak of him with deep affection; they didn’t want to disappoint him then, and nothing has changed now. His interview is one of two dozen, but he wisely keeps the focus on the skateboarders, showing how innovation in skate parks and competitions acquired a cultural weight as the sport defined itself via photography and magazine reports.
The Zephyr team of Z-Boys self-destructed almost immediately, but Peralta built Bones Brigade to last; the lead skaters stayed with the team into the early 1990s, when they closing in on the age of 30. It’s noticeable that their reputation lies in innovation not extremity. Bones Brigade were the opposites of rock stars. Punk rockers used to spit on the team’s leading figure, Tony Hawk, because he was the gawky opposite of cool skaters they revered.
As the trophies mounted and the teenagers became professionals, hubris never sank the team, although the misfits tag wasn’t a cliché, with several suffering from mental health issues associated with stress and other issues. Seen now, key skaters such as Rodney Mullen, have a jittery, abstract presence, resembling a highly strung coder remembering his initial programs. But Mullen essentially invented street skating as it exists today, and it was the Bones Brigade that changed the skateboard’s relationship to the ground. (Great archival magazine headline: 'I ollied the Berlin Wall.")
Peralta is better on the personal relationships and cultural evolution than the gravity-defying philosophy inherent in riding wheels attached to a board. He’s perhaps too close to his former protégés to dig into their core beliefs. Some still skate, and most have skateboarding related companies of one type or another, which makes the clear the commercial growth of the sport.
Much of that was encouraged by the innovations of Bones Brigade and its maverick art director, Craig Stecyk, who redefined marketing for the industry and helped invent the skateboarding video, which has since migrated to DVD and YouTube so that a scene can become known worldwide. Accordingly, the archival material is profuse and insightful (although the soundtrack is period-specific, it’s too arty for the Californian-based scene), and it provides a sharp contrast to the contemporary order, where Tony Hawk is the face of a video game empire, Craig Stecyk has a permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute, and teenagers hunt down knowledge of the Bones Brigade. This fine documentary will save them much time.