Edge

Burning the dollar: A skate video retrospective

Typing these little blurbs about the following skate videos, each of which has helped shape the destiny of pop culture, I wasn’t sure what to do. If you’re a skateboarder and know of these videos, then I’m sorry I didn’t break down the angle of the ankle on so-and-so’s inward heelflip. For those of you who have no idea what the hell a heelflip is, then read on without worry, and even if you do, keep reading.

These videos broke conventions (like never paying royalties for any song used), said, “kiss my ass” to authority and somehow managed to garner respect by doing so.

So, to all the fakers and biters who think that producing a video on your own is original, and that it hasn’t been done: do your research. The skate video has made originality hard to find.

Plan B
Questionable
1992
In 1992, a newly formed skate company called Plan B released what many consider to be the most important skateboard video of all time. As soon as the video begins, a barrage of tricks mixed in with endless street scuffles shoves you into your seat. Though the skaters in this video suffered from the horrendous fashion trend of size 50 pink jeans and T-shirts that look like nightgowns, their skating makes everything else secondary. Pat Duffy, the first skater featured in the video, has yet to be equaled today. The endless assault on handrails has just entered the public eye as of late (every time you see a handrail with screws through it, it’s because of skateboarding). From Primus to Metallica, to the first appearance of Cali rap crew Hieroglyphics, the video’s soundtrack is rich. If you haven’t heard of Hiero, then check Souls of Mischief’s ’93 ’til Infinity – hotness. Plan B’s crew runs equally deep. The amazing Colin McKay (no more than 15) and Danny Way linked together, a friendship that probably spawned at least one pair of your shoes in high school. That’s right, these guys are the originators of DC Shoes – see you at PacSun! This was also Mike Ternasky’s (R.I.P.) first solo project and established him as the premiere skate video producer for the next five years. So why is this video so important? Basically, it was the first time technical tricks looked good, period. Watch Rodney Mullen’s part and it’s hard to believe that instead of starring in skate movies he was reduced to Christian Slater’s stunt double in Gleaming the Cube. This man invented almost every trick under the sun, thus “What a Wonderful World” plays throughout segment in Questionable.

World Industries
20 Shot Sequence
1994

After it settled in people’s minds that tech skateboarding was here to stay, World found a way to keep it gangster. Swiping three songs from Method Man’s Tical, a kid getting beat down to start a section, an ex-crack dealer (Kareem Campbell) as a “professional” skateboarder, and a pre-Osbournes appearance by Jason Dill, this video is all over the map. The Menace squad gave kids a blueprint on how to make a living for 10 years off a thug image, but considering one of their riders, Fabian Alomar, has pursued a career in porn and Shiloh Greathouse’s part was cut short due to a prison sentence… well, these guys were pretty far gone to begin with. If you know what World Industries has become (Flame Boy, Wet Willy – kiddie skate stuff basically) it’s funny that the company’s roots started with a bunch of delinquents making fun of corporate businesses, plus I think it’s owned by a Japanese corporation now. Anyway, basically every rider in this video has started at least a mildly lucrative business involving skate affiliated goods. As for Steve Rocco, the owner of World Industries, well… he has his own private golf course that he races his Porsches on; not bad for a guy that made his living doing pirouettes in pink shorts (yeah, he used to skate too).

Toy Machine
Welcome To Hell
1996

This video threw a wrench into the gears of skateboarding and quite honestly made machines out of the riders. Each part blazed trails and gave images to people, via little voice over intros by their homies. Huge handrails and a bunch of kids with no fear was the analytical cinematic recipe for success. As proven by the worst slam section ever compiled (yeah, the “slam section” sounds lame, watch it and shut up). If you want to see someone slide across a parking lot on his face or turn his foot backward, then this is the video for you. The soundtrack brought Iron Maiden and Sabbath to the table, complementing the fatalistic skating (check the title), which is mind blowing. Jamie Thomas, here and forever, will be recognized as having made a generation of skateboarders think anything was possible. Each trick drops, and before you can figure out where it came from, another one knocks the last one right out of your head. Welcome To Hell, was the first time a video made sense to people who didn’t skateboard, it wasn’t just guys on ramps anymore. What East Coast rap did for hip hop in the mid ’90s, Welcome to Hell did for skateboarding. The final amazing thing about this vid is that somehow all the skate rats who thought rap was the only music in the world were suddenly diehard heavy metal fans. Anything that hit hard was accepted.

Girl
Mouse
1997

Spike Jonze, yeah you know him. Being John Malkovich and Adaptation ring a bell? Anyway, if you’re a nerd you probably know he made music videos before films (“Sabotage,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “Cannonball”) and skate videos before that. If you’re not a nerd, like me, congratulations! Spike Jonze broke into Hollywood through a skate video called Video Days, for a company owned by World Industries called Blind. Enough history, if you’re that interested you’re on the Internet by now. Mouse is what every skateboarder wishes would be released today. Original short films (that are actually well-made) mixed in with the skating, which is still incredible, and a score that takes the cake. Herbie Hancock probably never envisioned the amazing synthesis of his music and skating, yet these tracks seem destined for the video. Mike York’s section features a rap song made exclusively for him as he cruises past the crack rocks and graffiti pits of Venice Beach, a spot since torn down (people still bite this style to little avail, check Peter Smolik in 2001’s Guilty from Shorty’s). There is no way to describe the skating in this video. As I like to say, for those who know, they know… but everyone can appreciate it; that’s the beauty of Mouse, it’s a film, and a damn fine one. Jonze’s filmmaking (technical jargon aside), shows how dedicated the skaters were to his vision of what the video had to be. The result was so fresh and original; well, it has yet to be paralleled.

One final thought: Today everyone knows a skateboarder; skateboarding is more popular than Little League in the United States (a statistical fact). The skaters in these particular videos were doing it for no reason other than to have fun and progress the art of skating out of a bonded love, not the love of dough. Seek these videos out, simply for their snapshots of ’90s history; how skating melded together music, race, world travel, and, quite simply, freedom, and documented it all on videocassette.

Sven Barth can be reached at big_sven@hotmail.com.

January 28, 2003

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