"They'll bury the pool, we'll dig it out. They fill it with water, we'll
empty it. They bulldoze it, we'll rebuild it. We cannot be
In places like California and Florida they dot the landscape like thousands of artificial lakes. They sparkle with chlorinated cleanness and dapple a billion beams of rainbow light across the trimmed lawns and aluminum sided cells of suburbia. When they thrive, they are bastions of relaxation and exultation, a sign of wealth, privilege, and the endless summer. But when they expire, they become stagnant and brackish. They crack and decay, crumbling into themselves under the burden of a thousand vacations and a million screams of joy. Occasionally, they become garbage reservoirs, refuse piles conveniently located in your own backyard. And just as quickly as they were craved they are forgotten, resigned to a death as a smelly sinkhole in the midst of an overall gentrification of a nation. But every once in a while, they are resurrected. They are given a new charter on being, cleaned and appreciated by a new assemblage who still find kinship in their kidney shapes and delirium in their deep ends. For these are the bowl riders, the shredders who grind the coping and defy the deathbox as they maneuver through their own individualized skatepark sunk into the ground. They are men who live on the buzz of the bank. They are people who make it their goal to keep a skateboarding tradition vital and vibrant in these modern times of wooden ramps and video games. They exist for risk and thrive on the fleeting, fading smell of Chlorine.
Chlorine is a companion piece to 2002's stellar skateboarding documentary Dogtown And Z-Boys. Actually, it's more like a footnote to a single facet of that film, i.e. pool skating or as those in the know call it, "bowl carving." Utilizing interview footage, archival material, and a Cops-style follow-along technique, we witness firsthand how a ragtag group of fanatics find ways (and abandoned pools) to get their much-needed gnarlies out. It's joyful expression of athletic artistry. It's a beautiful and brutal look at how time and age have ravaged and reinvigorated the first generation of skate legends. There are five featured "stars" in this film, old school riders who still find the sublime in the shred: the physical and mature Steve Alba, the cocky and confident Dave Reul, the rocker in search of a band swagger of Steve Olson, the manic screech preacher Dave Hackett, and the teen trapped in an adult's body known as Lance Mountain. They, along with various other famous faces from the world of boarding, leave an indelible mark on this movie. They recall the foundation of one of skating's traditions while reflecting on how, in some ways, the sport has moved on, laughing under its breath at the last remaining riders of the concrete curves.
There is something wistful about a movie like this. Perhaps it's the lazy, lonely California setting, the abandoned pools and rundown homes baking in the warm sun, in stark contrast to the over-glamorized LaLa Land we've come to expect in the media. Maybe it's the men themselves, seasoned skaters who've avoided the Tony Hawk spotlight and corporate sellout ideal for the true rush of riding the cement surf. Or it could be the outright blood brother companionship these people feel for each other, a tribal mentality of being inside an elite cult of crazy, crafty clowns that only want to push their bodies and their experiences to the limit. For this group, every new aquatic discovery is an inverted mountain to climb, a chance to take one more endorphin-pumping pass inside the prototypical symbol of class and luxury. For the riders in Chlorine, there is a quest for the perfect pool and the perfect pool ride. And it's never ending.
The important part to note here is that most of the men featured in this film (some of whom made appearances in Dogtown) are all now in their late 30s and early 40s, a time when a label of "middle age" is stamped on a human's head and their daredevil days of shredding and cutting are supposed to be far behind them. Yet what we see is the exact opposite. These are men chasing age away through the timeless nature of their sport, their hobby…their obessession. They are true characters, icons in a closed culture of specialty speak, shared exciting episodes, and, most importantly, depression over the bastardization of their passion by the media and the mainstream. These hardcore warriors are out to fight for the internal ethos of skateboarding, to deliver it from the malls and the parking garages and reestablish it within the empty pools and patios of a decaying suburbia, where it belongs. Chlorine instills this kind of metaphysical reality to the mostly skate-rat ideal of modern step jumping and railing riding.
Produced by DVD newcomer Rise Above Entertainment, Chlorine is an exceptional DVD package. The film itself is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the editing and framing are fantastic. Sadly, this is a non-anamorphic presentation, so those with widescreen TVs will have issues with the transfer. From a purely aesthetic concept the movie looks—and sounds—great. Part of the reason for the sonic superiority is the rip-roaring soundtrack that compiles current metal mania with classic new wave and punk (Devo—always a welcome aural treat—is featured here). The surround speakers get some workout during the musical montages, but overall, the dialogue is clear and the audio is exceptional. As are the bonus extras. Alba and Reul lead us through a "dude speak" extravaganza on the alternate audio commentary track. These guys are lingo linguists and they've got the skate speech down pat (one gets the distinct impression that they invented it). You'll hear more "rads," "gnarlys," and "bros" and variations thereon than what you thought existed in the lexicon. Alba and Reul have a story for every occasion and an anecdote about every pool we see (and some we don't) and they share them in an over-enthusiastic stream of slang talk-a-thon that makes up one glorious DVD commentary.
Additional material here helps to flesh out some of the facts and faces in the film. Lance Mountain gives us a glimpse at the home movies made of him and his friends as they skate the days of youth away. Toby Burger shows us a couple of his favorite "secret" skate sites while he dodges the owners and the law in his shot-on-video short. There is a wonderful slide show presentation of stills from the film (and the making thereof) that give us more detail about the life and lifestyle of pool surfers. And for that added touch of nostalgia, the Eye on L.A. piece featuring the young Alba brothers and their friend is presented here, in its entirety.
Like a haunting Brian Wilson pop symphony to the lost art of pool riding, Chlorine recalls all that is pure and magical about the rebellious, renegade breed of what we now call extreme sports enthusiasts. These sad, determine men have found that their onetime hobby has become a must have matter of sustenance, like karmic nourishment for their soul. For them and us, Chlorine is life affirming and completing.
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