Judge Gordon Sullivan has learned that clobbering a dragon with a skateboard has no effect.
Our review of Dragonslayer (1981), published November 25th, 2003, is also available.
"I was in bad shape."—Josh "Skreech" Sandoval
Josh "Skreech" Sandoval is a skater known for his chaotic style. He's so chaotic, in fact, that he went from being a fully sponsored big deal on the skate circuit to a homeless guy with a kid to support doing most of his skating in abandoned pools around his hometown. Dragonslayer is a film that follows Skreech around the United States as he attempts a "comeback" of sorts.
While they're in the park, I have nothing but the most tremendous respect for skaters. Simply staying on the board in the average skatepark is a surprisingly difficult feat, and actually landing tricks is a skill worth of respect. Outside the park, though, I've never been a huge fan of the skating lifestyle. The perpetual adolescence and obsessive search for the next place to skate has never been something I understood.
I mention this because the major problem I had with Dragonslayer split exactly the same way. When Skreech is on his board in the abandoned pools of Fullerton, California, this documentary is firing on all cylinders. The light is gorgeous, the skating impressive, and director Tristain Patterson's imagery avoids the clichéd pitfalls of most skate videos. When Skreech is on his board, it's possible to forget he has a life outside the pool because he becomes one with his skating. Outside the pool, however, he's presented as every stereotype of a worthless skater, the kind of rider who gives other guys a bad name. He dresses like a punk, he drinks and does drugs, and he doesn't seem to care about anything beyond his next pool. Early in the film we hear him basically say, "I can't make it work with the mother of my baby, so my kid isn't going to have a father growing up because I'm leaving to skate." Though I appreciate his honesty (and can understand why any young person would choose the freedom of skating over the responsibilities of raising a child), it's really hard to have sympathy for him after that.
Apparently I'm not the only one who feels this way about Skreech. In his "director's statement" (included on this DVD) Patterson says when we met the skater, "It was impossible to talk to him. His head was lost in the clouds." Then, of course, "I saw him skate." Dragonslayer is exactly the kind of film that needs this sort of director's statement because it's a bit of a lost film. Patterson claims to be documenting a "generation…smart enough to know a potentially bleak future looms" by following one young person from that generation. When he sticks to the more anthropological moments, his film succeeds. When Skreech is on his board or wandering through a crowd of fans, the film works. When, however, it tries to be sympathetic to Skreech, showing him expounding on life and his philosophy, it fails miserably. Skreech does not feel like a spokesman for a generation, and it would have been far better to let the world Skreech inhabits speak for itself.
I'm also left with the feeling that Patterson portrait is a little disingenuous. Though I don't think that Skreech is in line for a Nobel Prize, his skating actually requires quite a bit of planning and prep, the kind of work that his lazy-stoner portrayal here seems to belie. Reading interviews with Skreech used to promote the film give a very different picture of the time surrounding the filming of Dragonslayer, and I'm left with the feeling that Patterson would have made a more effective documentary, would have more effectively documented his "lost generation" if he'd focused on pool skaters in general or the Fullerton scene, rather than on Skreech.
With all that said, however, Dragonslayer isn't a total waste. The skating we see is usually pretty top-notch, and fans of pool-skating will find much to enjoy in this flick. Whatever faults Patterson might have as an editor of documentaries, he knows how to work with a cinematographer to capture SoCal in all its golden-hued glory. This is a film that contains some beautiful shots. Also, as befits a skate documentary, the soundtrack is filled with a choice selection of indie bands, some more obscure than others. If nothing else, viewers will likely find a new band or two to watch out for.
Dragonslayer also looks pretty good on DVD. The standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic image is bright and clear, with a digital sheen to it. Black levels vary a bit and detail isn't always great, but that works perfectly for a low-fi skate documentary. The film's Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix does an okay job keeping the dialogue (sometimes recorded on the fly) as audible as possible, and it's well-balanced with the film's music. Extras, sadly, are not extensive. A single sentence "director's bio" and a two paragraph "director's statement" are all we get.
Dragonslayer has won awards, so it must appeal to someone. However, for those outside the diehard skater world, this documentary will likely appear as an unjustly sympathetic portrait of a listless young man. It's worth a rental for the curious, but the lack of extras makes a purchase hard to recommend.
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