Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Stoked – The rise and Fall of Gator



USA 2002 : Helen STICKLER : 82 mins

Straightforward but surprisingly compelling documentary does exactly what it says on the tin: trace the (too-rapid) rise and (vertiginous, ultimately homicidal) fall of pro-skateboarding legend Mark ‘Gator’ Rogowski. Prior knowledge of 1980s California ‘boarding is desirable but by no means necessary: the tale has more than enough to interest, entertain, shock, appall and move non-devotees. As such, Stoked is perhaps a cut above the much more encyclopaedic and upbeat – but annoyingly self-congratulatory – skate-documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys by the scene’s unofficial Boswell, Stacy Peralta.

Stickler certainly doesn’t shy away from the more unsavoury aspects of how a street activity developed into a competitive sport before ballooning into a very profitable business. While initially presenting himself as a take-no-crap rebel, Gator’s image soon underwent major changes when the cash started to flow in. But Rogowski was always something of an obnoxious, self-obsessed ‘asshole’: a mixed-up kid who suffered a classic case of ‘too much too soon’ and ended up believing his own hype. As we can see for ourselves in period clips eerily reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s spoof mini-documentary The Dirk Diggler Story from Boogie Nights.

The rise of home-video in the late seventies means that Stickler, like Peralta before her, has a treasure-trove of surviving archive footage to draw on. Her selections are nimbly edited to a soundtrack of suitably raucous contemporary punk by the likes of Black Flag and Bad Religion, while expert testimony is provided via present-day interviews with survivors including Peralta, a ramrod-stiff Tony Hawk and the much more relaxed Jason Jessee, the latter so movie-stealingly hilarious he clearly deserves a documentary all to himself.

1st August, 2004
(seen 17th July : Cornerhouse, Manchester : public show)

by Neil Young