I watched a ton of skate and surf movie as a kid growing up in the hotbed of alternative sports culture, Southern California. I was an accomplished if not spectacular practitioner of both, and would eat up the opportunity to see new tricks, new athletes, performing at the top of their game, re-watching those VHS tapes to the point of destruction. However more than the aspirational feelings these vids engendered, they would end up inevitably influencing all sorts of aesthetic tastes in me, introducing me to new fashion, new music, and even new styles of editing and filmmaking.
Spike Jonze famously emerged from the BMX and skate film scene, ultimately extending his influence to MTV with the skate-video inspired Jackass series. However even without citing the one filmmaker to make good, it is undeniable that the genre was a hotbed of low-budget creativity. Back in the early days it was the athletes themselves producing the videos, and outside the main formula of editing of tricks to a sick soundtrack, most of the best vids really tried to reproduce a theme or feeling via skits, interludes and interviews—typically aggression and rebellious humor in skate vids, tranquility and freedom in the surf ones.
I don’t watch them anymore, and as the various industries have become richer and more developed, I wonder if that same youthful, amateur spark still runs through the current, more accomplished productions. However if I’m flipping channels or finding something in my RSS Inbox, (typically from Kottke of all people) I still find myself transfixed by the joyous movement of those bodies: flipping, grinding, riding, carving.
Relentless Energy has brought that appreciation back to me, in a narrative format that I now can share with you. Relentless Energy Short Stories is a series of short film documentary installments featuring individuals connected to the alternative sports world. Shot in the attractive DSLR/Magic Bullet/Twixtor-style that won Pho Productions Vimeo’s Video of the Year, these people share their thoughts and philosophy’s which allow them to be among the best in the world at what they do. More so than a traditional scene video, the Relentless Short Stories appeal to a wider general interest while still not skimping on the breathtaking shots of insane tricks.
Dark Side of the Lens—The first, and still best of the series—also the one to have received the most exposure. Mickey Smith is the both filmmaker and subject, one of the most acclaimed surf photographers in the world. His developed eye for beauty and composition means the film sports stunning, and I mean it, STUNNING images. Plus, his control over the story via a long monologue imbues the film with the clearest thematic expression of the 4 films. The only problem is his subdued, affectless delivery which makes following along to his words a difficult, though rewarding proposition. Invoking the normal surf themes of freedom, beauty and adventure, Mickey relates why he is drawn to the surf lifestyle, and to photography in particular, before twisting these virtues midway to show the angry, stormy, and yes, “dark” side to his profession.
Transatlanticism—A portrait of BMX street rider Marc Webb. Like Dark Side of the Lens, it features lots of lovely slo-mo and color-graded footage, and the tricks in BMX have really progressed the last several years (those Decade 360′s are sweet). More so than the others in the series, the tricks are at the center of this film as Webb’s interview ends up being rather superficial, denying the film its weight. The most intriguing part of the conversation regards injuries, and it is most interesting for the way it connects to another short documentary featuring Webb, which details his comeback from a broken back— Marc Webb: BMX Champion, winner in the documentary category at this year’s Babelgum Online Film Fest (an event we declined to cover since Babelgum’s new interface is even worse than its old one).
Permanent Vocation—A glimpse into the life of pro snowboarder Jenny Jones. This one I felt had an interesting story, it talked about the commitment and desire which leads one to pursue an unlikely career in action sports, exploring that decision one makes when half-measures no longer work and you at least temporarily close off the path for a different, more conventional life. I never considered that an option for me, but when I was a kid the romanticism of the travel, the sponsors and the competition was always a fantasy and I wondered about what it took to get there. Jenny Jones provides a good subject and director Johannes Ostergard tells a fine story in his limited time, but unfortunately the actual sports footage in this one is subpar to the rest of the series.
Flight of Passage—The latest in the series, this film directed by James Gardner just dropped last week. It is an interesting mashup, featuring the the laid-back street skating of Ben Nordberg across two continents, with a narrative voiceover provided by Steve Mason of the Beta Band, detailing his rise to musical fame. The compositions in this film are of the most amazing variety—lots and lots of cool shots are on display, however they overshadow the skating itself. Mason’s narration is a bit clichéd, speaking of dreams, working hard, and staying true to your creativity, and is on the surface unrelated to Ben’s skating. That said, the director’s conceit is not too difficult to tease out. As skate culture has continued to grow, the relationship between the intensely creative and underground culture which births skating and the corporate culture that markets it, is a relationship that can be increasingly seen as analogous to the music industry.
We’ve linked to the YouTubes for convenience, but you can catch all the Short Stories Series as well as other videos at the Relentless Energy website. Hope you enjoy these films like I did, it brought back some good memories. I’ve got to check, I bet I’ve got that DVD of the Thicker Than Water lying around here somewhere…