A routine but engaging introduction to Hawk’s career [SXSW]
For the skateboard illiterate, there is perhaps no name more famous than Tony Hawk. Even those who don’t know the difference between a kickflip and a heelflip can probably tell you something about the most popular skateboarder of all time: the video games that bear his name, his appearances in “Donkeyor even his 900 at the 1999 X-Games. No one has done more to bring the skateboarding community into the mainstream than Hawk. So it’s a little surprising that it took Hawk so long to get his own hagiographic documentary, courtesy of by Sam Jones “Tony Hawk: Until the wheels fall off.”
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Routine, but never less than engaging, Jones’ film essentially follows Hawk’s personal and professional life from birth to the present day. Comprised of archival footage and interviews with Hawk and various other skaters, “Until the Wheels Fall Off” cannot, no pun intended, reinvent the wheel of sports documentaries. But it’s a fascinating dive into skateboarding culture from 1980 and helps illustrate just how important Hawk was in legitimizing the sport. As discussed by various other contemporary skateboarders, Hawk was a phenomenon from the time he picked up a board in his early teens; his uncanny ability to perfect nearly impossible tricks led him to a record number of competitive victories by the time he graduated from high school.
Most of these voices are from the infamous Bones Brigade, a skateboarding team founded by the Z-Boys legend. Stacy Peralta. Besides Hawk, Peralta’s voice is dominant in the film, helping to contextualize the importance of Hawk’s skateboarding style. For anyone who has seen the Peralta documentary”Dogtown and the Z-Boyshis presence here is hardly surprising, as no one has done more to document and historicize the ebbs and flows of skateboarding than him.
The other significant presence is Hawk’s friend – and member of the Brigade – Rodney Mullen. Better known as a freestyler or a street skater, Mullen is quite the poet-artist his esoteric skate style suggests. As Mullen notes, his friendship with Hawk was built around competing skate styles. Hawk favored green skating, keeping them out of competition with each other but nonetheless on similar professional trajectories.
If the first half of Jones’ documentary reviews Hawk’s historic rise to the California skate scene and his rivalries against Christian Hosoi and Duane Peters, the second half sets out to explore Hawk’s cultural influence. Touching on everything from his eponymous video games to his heightened tunnel vision when it comes to mastering tricks, all of Hawk’s most significant moments – the 540 McTwist, the 900, the downward spiral loop, and more. – are given considerable time and explanations.
While his professional career is given ample context, Jones moves past the less savory parts of Hawk’s personal life, only briefly touching on his four wives and his time spent partying – mostly taking place during the height of his life. Boom Boom HuckJam tour in the early 2000s. While Hawk is generally self-effacing, honest, and admits fame is the “worst drug,” we never get a glimpse of his life outside of skateboarding. His first son, skateboarder Riley Hawk, appears briefly to allude to his troubled childhood, but “Until the Wheels Fall Off” isn’t that kind of exposition.
Instead, what becomes incredibly clear is Hawk’s work ethic and how skateboarding seemingly clarifies everything else in his life. His previous nine attempts at the 1999 X-Games to land a 900 are shown in near real time, showing the increased frustration and fixation with each failed attempt. When he finally lands the mythical trick, he shows more of a sense of relief than anything resembling pride.
Such an all-encompassing approach limits “Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Drop” because two hours may not be enough to cover Hawk’s entire life. It feels like Jones is only scratching the surface of Hawk’s professional career. Despite this, the documentary is a fascinating introduction to Hawk and skateboarding more generally. [B]
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