Fall, and Get Back Up – Skateboarding in Film

Have you ever found yourself completely enthralled by skateboarding videos on YouTube? The sheer talent alone can keep you stuck watching videos for hours straight. Maybe you even skate yourself. Skateboarding films capture the awe-inspiring talent of skateboarding, but they also capture the family-like environment and the “never-stay-down” attitude that circles around the culture of street skateboarding.

Skateboarding films are the pinnacle of metaphorical and literal falling on your ass and picking yourself back up afterwards. They are the underrated “feel-good” film genre. They have been around for decades, from the 1978 film Skateboard, to the legendary Lords of Dogtown (2005), and finally to the more recent Mid90s (2018) and Skate Kitchen (2018.) Although skate films have always kept the same dynamic between the sweet aesthetics of skateboarding and the complexity of human relationships, they have also been reinvented with every generation to capture a deeper theme found in its complex culture, that of family and acceptance.

What is loved most about skateboard movies is the fact that they are more than a film for skate lovers. They are films for the downtrodden, for the lonely, and for the lost. Skateboard films and culture provide a comfort. They provide a family and a safe haven that many have never found anywhere else in life.

“Mid90s” dir. Jonah Hill

Mid90s is Jonah Hill’s directorial and screenwriting debut, and he has continuously stated that although the film is not autobiographical, it is a representation of a feeling he once felt as a child, and the search for friendship he struggled with as a young teen. He found comfort and friendship in hip-hop music and the older skateboarding kids, just like young Stevie in the film. This connection to the film was not just founded in the creator himself, but the audience as well. Whether you personally connect to the film because you also found solace in skateboard culture, or even if you were just caught up in the exuberant, yearning spirit of the children in the film, Mid90s is definitely a perfect example of how the skateboarding subgenre of film has the capacity to reach people on an ample amount of levels.

The opening scene with Stevie shows him being thrown against the wall and pummelled by his older brother. Just moments after that, Stevie stands up and goes into his brother’s room, despite knowing the physical risks if his brother finds out. It’s a complex scene of duality as you feel empathy for the pain this kid just experienced, being kicked down by the person he very obviously looks up to, but you also admire that he never loses his innocence, and he never loses his curious nature. Throughout the film, this is a constant theme with our main character and his new friends. As their home lives and daily struggles are laid out throughout the span of the movie, you get insight to the sturdy attitudes of these children. They continuously stand tall every day even after being knocked down by the unsteady roads of life and their skate parks. Stevie is revered by his new, older friends for being able to take a slam like it’s nothing. He’s “crazy” and “wild”, but all of them share these qualities in their own ways. Through their literal and figurative “face smacks”, they have found something worth living for and people worth living life with.

“Skate Kitchen” dir. Crystal Moselle

Following a similar theme, Skate kitchen is the 2018 directorial debut of Crystal Moselle, and it tracks the lives of an all-female skate crew as they find their way through friendship and their passions in a male-dominated field. The film is based on the real-life skate-girl crew of the same name, and it stars some of their actual skaters. The opening scene of the film starts with main character Camille falling on her skateboard between her crotch and needing stitches in her private area. On her way home from the hospital, she literally tries to get back on the skateboard and skate home. That itself is a testament to her “fall and get back up” attitude that carries throughout the entire film. As Camille struggles with her rocky relationship with her mum and her disconnect from her father, she finds a family in her new friends of Skate Kitchen. The film follows in line with the same skateboarding tone, but it breaks barriers by introducing an all-female skate crew and traversing the complexities of female friendship that is overcome by overwhelming love and connection. The same can be said for Hulu’s documentary Minding the Gap (2018), the directorial debut of Bing Liu. It keeps the theme of friendship and familial struggles as it follows three friends – Liu himself, Zack and Keire – over the span of a decade. This film also integrates the three boys’ struggles with race, manhood, and economic status. All the while, they are holding on to a strong friendship and showing a true connection to the city they grew up in as they skate through empty streets and abandoned areas. This documentary was listed as one of Barack Obama’s very own favorites of 2018.

“Minding the Gap” dir. Bing Liu

Skateboarding films continue to be on a well-deserved and revered rise as an inspirational, emotional, and general badass genre of film. When life kicks you down, and when you fall over and over again, you can hopefully find safety and love in friendship and a resilience in skateboarding (or whatever passion you possess) that will help push you back up every time.

“Family are those with whom you share your good, bad, and ugly, and still love one another in the end. Those are the ones you select.”

Hector Xtravaganza