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LAist Movie Review: Deathbowl to Downtown

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Deathbowl To Downtown. Photo courtesy of ncpfilms.

Los Angeles, as a culture, lives by it's own standards and plays by as many (or as few) rules as money can buy. But with that is the tacit understanding that, on many occasions, it will also die by it's own shortcomings. As a result, Southern California is and will be the birthplace of many things, but those things will often leave their home to experience greater and more profound success elsewhere.

The new documentary film Deathbowl to Downtown - The Evolution of Skateboarding in New York City deeply concerns such a transition. In the early 1970's, surfboards began to emerge from the waters of the great left coast and sprout wheels and grip tape. In order to survive their new surroundings - empty swimming pools and strolling avenues - boards got smaller and added bolts, bushings, and bearings. Darwin would be proud.

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However, by the middle of decade, a core group of specimens had left the petrie dish of Southern California and begun to infect the growing youth movements of a disenfranchised New York. And this is where Deathbowl begins, and the the story of skateboarding in Los Angeles starts to end. Without empty pools or an abundance of boardwalks, inner-city New Yorkers began cutting smaller, faster, and more agile boards for every day (and everywhere) use. After taking root with a loose conglomerate of artists calling themselves Zoo York, street skating's gestation period would not last long. Within years, students began adapting pure street moves with the cruising skate mentality of those blonde-haired thrashers from the other coast. Add in the ollie (the pop-your-board-off-the-ground basis for most contemporary skate tricks) for a new, vertical dimension of possibilities, and suddenly street skating in New York City was not only a nuisance to the elderly, it was an absolute cash cow for those smart enough, and young enough, to do it well.

Deathbowl to Downtown manages to cover all of these topics and beyond, while certainly not leaving out the human element. After all, the story of any movement is really just the story of those people who ARE the movement. The Mike Vallely and Shut Skateboards of the world; those of us recognizing a need, and filling that need in any way possible. Deathbowl itself does this, by recognizing the lack of solid evidence showcasing the true uprising of street skating in America, and filling it with a superb film. Accomplished with a fine mixture of archival footage and interviews, the writers let the scenes and the narrator (Kids' own Chloë Sevigny) do all the talking, content in leaving the tricky shots and generally fancy documentary failings alone. It is this simplicity that lets the real footage (the one of a kind six-stair 50-50 grind, or the run-ins with retro security guards) shine through, unencumbered.

For anyone interested in the rise of a city or the very recent growth of a culture, lifestyle, and sport, Deathbowl to Downtown is probably a good idea. With a breezy pace and great soundtrack provided in parts by such namesakes as The Beastie Boys, this film is a wonderful way to chronicle a part of our world that simply didn't exist 50 years ago. In fact, most of the important events in skating have probably happened in your lifetime, a fact not lost on directors Coan Nichols and Rick Charnoski. And as such, Deathbowl to Downtown should not be lost on you, either.