When you grab a documentary on DVD you expect great extras as standard. Plexifilm’s ‘Style Wars’ remains a pinnacle. You’d be forgiven for assuming that excised interview segments removed for the sake of brevity, supporting information, galleries, where-are-they-nows and all that other good stuff should come as standard, but if you saw Revolver’s atrocious ‘Beautiful Losers’ release, bare-bones and inexplicably pitched as a skate movie, you’ll soon realise just how spoilt you’ve been. Likewise, their ‘Tyson’ disc was devoid of extras too, despite thirty plus hours of interviews compressed into ninety minutes and even the forthcoming apology/cash-in by way of double disc is just a rehash of existing fight footage. The moral? Lower those expectations beyond the main feature.
Superb UK skate exploration ‘Rolling Through The Decades’ was two hours already, but the extra forty minutes provided answers to any questions raised, and on the announcement that Coan Nichols and Rick Charnoski’s ‘Deathbowl To Downtown’ was due out as a digital disc there was a certain excitement. Especially in the UK which was, despite vocalising frustrations, omitted from the film’s screening schedule. Now this exploration of New York’s skate history is available to buy, curiously, there’s been little global distribution (in the meantime, buy a copy from www.deathbowltodowntown.com) or fleshing out of the extras beyond cryptic talk of two discs and the nifty accompanying fanzine-style booklet. This ambiguity could prevent purchase, so it’s time to take a quick tour of the mysterious second disc.
Relatively short, but efficient in telling its tale, you’re unlikely to emerge from ‘Deathbowl’s main event without wanting to see more of the footage the filmmakers discovered during production. It shoots past like the Gonz in traffic via quickfire editing, and as potted history, it’s outstanding. For the sake of a narrative, some stories are omitted, but if you’re expecting deleted scenes, you’re out of luck. What the menu screen displays (notably, the back of the box is too matter-of-fact to even list a running time, let alone the existence of another disc) is far more interesting – they’ve included much of the rare source materials in their original form instead; a deconstructed documentary.
You might have seen footage from Action East’s ‘Underground: Along The Eastern Edge’ 1984 shop video when it surfaced on YouTube last year before vanishing. It’s incorporated here – skating around South Street Seaport Museum, Haring murals and the NYC Sanitation Department and leaping off camper vans, there’s vests and neon surf shorts aplenty here, with street plants for days and a young Mike Vallely making an appearance. It’s a shame that rights issues held off the new wave soundtrack, meaning a contemporary commissioned version is used, but as rare videos go, this one’s a banger, even if it just highlights skateboarding’s street evolution.
Characters who helped shape the scene but remain unsung beyond the locale get their shine too – another inclusion, a DCTV Youth’s cable channel show episode from 1991 called ‘Benji’s Family On Wheels’ highlights former DJ Benji Garced and Ultimate Journey Skates by Brooklyn Banks. It’s an interesting look at New York’s skate store community mentality. Sadly, after the passing of his son in a skate-related accident, the store closed in 1993. In 2007, Benji opened up his store, named Malachi Records after his son, but it closed lates last year, a victim of high rents in the city. Mr. Garced certainly deserves applause for supporting the scene in a transitional time.
A section from ‘Skateboard Superstars’ (1988?) dedicated to New York includes Cal Chamberlain making a brilliantly wild prediction about flying skateboards being a problem in the near future. His Theodore Kaczynski style getup makes it hard to be certain, but it’s safe to assume that it’s the same Cal Chamberlain who modelled for Steven Sprouse, was friendly with Deborah Harry and worked with David Byrne before becoming a sculptor and early blogger who worked for CNN before walking away from it after becoming disillusioned with the media. He passed away last Summer, but his work and attitude remains inspirational.
There’s also footage of ‘Skanky Town’s early days from Steve Rodriguez, ‘Magic Toe,’ James “Sperm” Broderick’s 2006 Super8 skate footage, accompanied by appropriately dischordant music, a gallery of Ivory Serra’s skate photography, an edit from Steve Marino’s ‘An Upstate Of Mind’ and ‘Dobbinblock Archives,’ featuring James Frankhouse teraring it up in a pair of Fila F13s. Seb Carayol’s ‘Where Are They Now?’ notes, a freeze frame gallery of the film’s participants looking odd and an arty little five minute Andy Kessler segment with music by fellow Soul Artist Pablo Calogero (who contributed to the soundtrack of ‘Downtown 81’) makes for a perfect tribute to the man that finishes off this package with finesse.
Whether you thought the main feature was too short, loved it or have a loose interest in a culture that arguably permeates every pixellated pore of hype culture’s increasing sprawl, this DVD is well worth investing in.