Stacy Peralta’s Dogtown and Z-Boys is a stylish sports documentary that chronicles the emergence of the surf/skate counter-culture in Venice, California during the 1960s and 70s. Told from the perspective of the Zephyr surf/skate team, the film boldly spray-paints a portrait of a talented, outcast group of devil-may-care street kids from Dogtown, known as the Z-boys, who changed the face of skateboarding with a unique style and attitude heavily influenced by the local surfing subculture. The Z-boys utilized the natural landscapes of their decaying urban neighborhood and developed an innovative guerilla style that helped revitalize the sport, elevating it above just another youthful fad.
Despite the negative connotations that go with the beach bum lifestyle of that era, Dogtown intelligently explores the history of skateboarding with incredible archive footage and occasionally poignant interviews with the major players involved in the building of the sport. There is a sense however that the film’s scope is somewhat limited, following only the journey of the Z-boys skate team, but their story is nonetheless a compelling one that even those who don’t “shred” can relate to in some way.
Dogtown’s rapid-fire editing is as rowdy and in-your-face as the Z-boys themselves, and keeps the story moving at a pace worthy of its subject matter. You can tell a lot of thought and heart went into retelling the story of the Z-boys, and because it was made by one their own, virtually no stone is left unturned. It’s a brash look at the evolution of one extreme sport, the birth of another, and the corrosive nature of money and fame.
However, the interviewees often seem to have been too close to what was going on at the time to understand it from a grand perspective. When reflecting on their pasts, they often tend to generalize everything down to hyperbole and abstract concepts of how they impacted the sport. Something they did was “the best” or “the greatest” or something “no one had ever done before.” In some cases it might be true, but for much of it there’s no way of ever really knowing and it makes some of what they say feel like speculative exaggeration. However, the director does an excellent job of capturing these men as they are and painting a relatively complete portrait of Venice’s Dogtown and the wild Z-boys.
Given that Dogtown is a documentary and relies heavily on dated archival footage, the overall image quality of the release is understandably lackluster for a blu-ray, but not in a way that’s disappointing or distracting. Most of the footage is grainy and shows definite signs of age, but seems to fit perfectly within both the context and gritty style of the film. What’s interesting is that the newer interviews with the Z-boys and the B-shots that are interspersed throughout have the same grainy black and white look, which appears to be an intentional choice made by the director to maintain consistency in the film’s coarse look.
Though everything is displayed in 1080p HD, many viewers might find it difficult to get accustomed to the 1.33:1 full screen aspect ratio. These visuals flaws certainly wouldn’t pass for a feature film, but for a documentary where content outweighs the visuals, they’re minor imperfections that can easily be overlooked and actually compliment the style and message of the film. The only real question is whether the quality upgrade from DVD is worth the extra cash. Having not seen the DVD version it’s hard to say, but I can’t imagine it looking much grainier than it already is or if that would even be a significant problem were it the case. The only real benefit would be watching the handful of special features that are shot in widescreen HD.
The film’s 5.0 DTS HD Master Audio doesn’t deliver much in terms of bass obviously, but since Dogtown is wholly driven by dialogue, it’s not particularly noticeable. The effects of ocean waves crashing and skateboard wheels scraping across asphalt come across nice enough and the classic rock soundtrack does an excellent job of matching the attitude of the Z-boys as well as successfully placing the archival footage in the context of the rocking 60s and 70s.
Believe it or not, there’s a plethora of features here to keep you busy after the credits roll and even more surprisingly, most of it is shown in HD. I’d actually go as far as to say there is too much supplementary footage here– Wow, I never thought I’d ever be saying that. Some of the featurettes are either so short or so pointless though, that it almost feels like the director just threw in whatever extra archive footage he had left over. Still, considering it’s a documentary that has more extras than most feature films, Dogtown deserves a lot of credit. Features include:
Audio commentary featuring director Stacy Peralta and editor Paul Crowder.
Alva 200: Alternate Ending
An alternate ending the the film that was eventually cut.
Craig Stecyk: Deleted Scene
A brief interview with the photographer responsible for capturing the style and grit of the Z-boys and Dogtown.
The State of Pool Skating
A more in depth interview with Tony Alva picking his brain about modern day pool skating and his contributions to the sport in general. Pro skateboarder Bucky Lasek is also interviewed providing an interesting contrast of old school vs. new school perspectives.
Tony Alva Art Show
The convergence of skating and art at Tony Alva’s Art Show. They talk a great deal about how creativity and skateboarding go hand in hand, but personally it feels like kind of a stretch. Still, it adds to the picture of the Dogtown lifestyle.
That Question Sucked
A brief montage of the interviewees getting annoyed and telling the director off. It’s so short and unnecessary one wonders why they even included it at all.
Lords of Dogtown: Webisodes
A brief featurette capturing behind-the-scenes footage of the making of Lords of Dogtown, the silver screen adaptation of Dogtown and Z-boys.
Extended raw footage that can be unlocked by clicking an icon that randomly appears during the film.
Bicknell Hill Session
A brief montage of still shots capturing the Z-boys as they skate down Bicknell Hill. It’s oddly quiet without any background music and is another inclusion that feels kind of pointless.
Jeff Ho 200
Another brief, silent featurette capturing surfboard artist Jeff Ho doing his thing.
Mars Vista 2000
A little skate break with Stacy Peralta and the crew on their downtime.
Dogtown and Z-boys is a top notch extreme sports documentary that fully captures the birth of skateboarding and the politics of the Zephyr surf/skate team with enough grit and style to make any Dogtown local proud. It’s frentic, in-your-face pacing makes it entertaining enough to keep even those who don’t participate in extreme sports riveted. However, its fullscreen aspect ratio and mediocre image quality may turn off those looking to own it on blu-ray.