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Original Issue

Skates Alive

Once upon a sidewalk there was genteel skateboarding. Then came
the mangy Southern Californian roughriders known as the Zephyr
team, and asphalt was never the same. Director Stacy Peralta's
documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys is a careening ride through the
rise and fall of the Z-Boys in the 1970s and the origins of
extreme sports.

Dogtown was financed by Vans sneakers, which appear in most
action sequences, and Peralta's agenda is clear: He was an
original Z-Boy. Yet the film overcomes its commercial allegiance
and its potential for self-promotion with a story as gripping as
tape on a board. Dogtown takes us to the birth of skateboarding
as insurgent street theater and of the renegade attitude
associated with action sports. The exploits of gifted skate
punks like Tony Alva and Jay Adams unfold against the backdrop
of broken homes and a decaying Venice beach community; like rock
and roll, the story is the revenge of the latchkey-kid underdog.
Then, once sponsors raid the team and fame arrives, Dogtown
becomes a cautionary tale: Before our horrified eyes Adams goes
from agile class clown to hardened ex-con.

Yet the movie is no downhill ride. Clips of 1970s teens breaking
free of their malaise, set to anthems by Thin Lizzy and Alice
Cooper, are mesmerizing, as is footage of the '75 nationals.
First come the Z-Boys' predecessors, doing quaint handstands;
then Adams appears, humping, low on his board, an anarchist on
wheels. The sport's equivalent of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan,
the event signaled the aerial launch of a new era. --David Browne

COLOR PHOTO: PAT DARRIN/SONY PICTURES CLASSICS/AP Skate punks like Alva emerge as pioneer heroes in Dogtown