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Review: 'Bones Brigade' rides a skateboard back to the '80s

Stacy Peralta's latest documentary looks back at glory days of the streetside sport with a tad more wistfulness than his 'Dogtown and Z-Boys.'

November 08, 2012|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
(Sundance )

Skateboarding legend Stacy Peralta's latest documentary, "Bones Brigade: An Autobiography," is like a high school reunion, filled with affectionate memories of an earlier, more innocent, time.

The director returns to his pro-skateboard roots, and it's clear from Peralta's comments, sprinkled through the film, that the sport and the players remain his first love. But while his breakthrough documentary, "Dogtown and Z-Boys," cracked open the window on a largely unknown world in vibrant and visceral ways, "Bones" feels like an epilogue.

The film follows the inception and the unexpected success of the Bones Brigade, the skateboard team that would dominate the 1980s. (The '70s-era Zephyr team was "Dogtown's" subject.) The Brigade was cobbled together by Peralta and George Powell, an innovative skateboard maker and Peralta's business partner at the time. It was a motley crew, a collection of scrawny teenage outcasts who would go on to redefine the sport. A rail-thin, sandy-haired Tony Hawk would become the most famous, a crossover mainstream star. But the others — Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Tommy Guerrero, Mike McGill and Rodney Mullen — left deep imprints, all chronicled in the film.

Cutting between raw footage of the guys trying out their nascent runs and riffs, some barely 13 at the time, and their much older and wiser selves, is telling. As they begin to reflect, there is a wistfulness that creeps in for those freewheeling days when they were superstars, competing and putting on exhibitions around the world.

With most interviews conducted in a room covered floor to ceiling with skateboards, one by one they sit down alone to reminisce. The first thing that strikes you is what unlikely renegades they were. Often bullied and mostly from troubled homes, none was physically imposing. The skateboard became their ticket to freedom and respect. It is compelling stuff.

But the director doesn't stay there long. Intercut is '80s-era footage of the skateboarding world — some of the Brigade, but more of it street-level montages. The grainy, home-movie, hand-held sensibility doesn't do justice to either the kids' abilities or their daredevil moves.

Athletic excellence would keep the Bones Brigade on top of the sport for years. But it was Peralta and Powell's marketing savvy — a gritty, street style of graphic outrage rather than the more typical boys-with-boards ads — that would turn the team into a sensation. The documentary spends a great deal of time on those commercial moves as well as the rise and fall of skateboarding's popularity in general.

The former members of the Bones Brigade are middle-aged now. Most are married with kids; nearly all retain a link to the skateboard world with small ventures that help pay the bills. And all of them still get on a board every now and then — which would have been a kick to see, but the documentary never goes there.

Too soon, the historical timelines, the economic ups and downs of the business, begin to feel like an intrusion. What grabs you, stays with you, is the story of the boys who would be skateboarding kings and the men who remember their brief and shining reign.

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

'Bones Brigade: An Autobiography'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Playing: At Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood

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