Barely Skating By

Dragonslayer is Tristan Patterson's lyrical and formally audacious documentary portrait of Josh “Skreech” Sandoval, 23-year-old wastoid pro-skater with corporate sponsors, a place in the unofficial skateboarding hall of fame, a gorgeous teenage girlfriend, a history of crippling depression, and no permanent place to live. Alternately dreamy and abrasive, Dragonslayeris a submersion in an endless summer subculture, its nonlinear wall-of-sound aesthetic an apparent attempt to mimic its subject's point of view. (“Some of it literally IS his point of view,” Patterson points out. The filmmaker gave his subject a Flip camera with which to capture his personal misadventures.) Sandoval's days are spent getting loaded, Google Street View searching for abandoned houses with drained pools in which to skate, and, eventually, hanging with Leslie, an extraordinarily poised student whose romantic interest in our hero is both confounding and inspiring. It was Leslie's arrival in Sandoval's life that convinced Patterson that what he was calling an “experiment” had the potential to be a feature. The introduction of its heroine complicates Dragonslayer's underlying, unspoken themes. Is Leslie a “good girl” whose future is threatened by her bad egg older boyfriend? Or is that classic narrative no longer applicable in an economic climate in which “no future” fatalism isn't just a punk-rock adolescent phase but a mainstream reality for more Leslie-esque kids than we'd like to believe? Dragonslayer, produced by independent film force Christine Vachon, won the grand prize for documentary at SXSW and has been screening at film fests since, but its essayistic, episodic approach makes it an odd duck on a nonfiction circuit still dominated by straightforward, talking-head heavy issue films. Nothing like a traditional social-issue doc, Patterson's one-of-a-kind hybrid captures a socio-historical moment with the kind of charged authenticity that only comes from a willingness to embrace contradictions: It's discursive and hypnotic, laconic and urgent.
Nov. 18-24, 2011

 
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