Paradise of Storm

Tag: skateboarding

Mid90s is the Beginning and Ending of Our Lives

C-MID90s-Facebook

by Guy Walker

Growing up in Los Angeles in the mid nineties was supposed to be a time of perspiring boredom. There was no Great War to protest against, no major cultural upheaval, no new mind-expanding drugs to try. There was just the day-to-day unfolding monotony of being a kid, wading through the creamy smog the way grandmothers swim, swinging lunch pails, conceding that yo-yos and Pokémon were scenes of glamour and social footing.

Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s, observes so much more than the fragmented trademarks of growing up in this strange and passionless orgy—the standardized confusion of slang, the Teenage Ninja Turtles ubiquity, the stapled fortresses bunched together into a barren and broken purlieu. Most representations of the nineties serve more like they were accruements of nostalgia organized neatly on the fireplace mantle. And within the context of skateboarding (as well as surfing and snowboarding), Hollywood has never achieved anything worthwhile. For the most part, these types of films have come across as one blurred and contrived iteration of Dazed and Confused, which in itself was feigned nostalgia.

What makes Mid90s the delicate masterpiece that it is, is our own obsession with authenticity. We’ll scour endless hours of interview footage and Twitter feeds to find a person’s single public stumble, and confidently write them off as a counterfeit icon. Jonah Hill rightly stated that a single Kowabunga! in a film that’s really only peripherally about skateboarding would disembowel the whole work, lump it along with the rest of the ridiculous genre.

But there’s none of this caricaturized glee. Thirteen-year-old Stevie, played by Sunny Suljic, comes from a moderately broken home—with a single mother, and an older brother who beats on him, he turns to a new group of friends. He stops watching movies with his mom; he starts smoking cigarettes, and drinking forties in the bathroom in order to catch up with the older kids; he’s deflowered in a sense, vaunting his success of fingering a girl for the first time. But Mid90s is a return to innocence. The resounding meliorism in Hill’s picture is finding family outside one’s own, in the ramshackled guardians who roam around like us, searching for some invocation of purpose. It seems negligible at times to try to pontificate on why a film is so successful in its delivery, in how it was molded over four years into its nice 84-minute package of what it means to grow up in a broken home. And maybe this was unintended. Director Paul Thomas Anderson said it was only well after he completed Boogie Nights did he realize it was about family—about finding it in the most unexpected places.

The return to innocence is what drives so much of the American adult narrative. It’s why so many of us have children, so we can vicariously relive life’s gleaming optimism through our children’s eyes. The innocence is summarized neatly in a scene when Fuckshit, a rhapsodic long-haired skater a few years older than Stevie, played by Olan Prenatt, explains to a genuinely engrossed homeless man about why they skateboard all day: “[It’s] why we ride a piece of wood—like, what that does to somebody’s spirit.” If an adult uttered those words, we could aptly scoff at their own self-indulgence; but the unprompted candidness of the young is what makes it good and true. That same scene was inspired by a moment just before the end credits in Plan B’s 1993 skate video, Virtual Reality, when one of the skaters sings along to Here Comes The Sun with a homeless man playing on his guitar. There was no mockery, no escaped abuse; just a moment of genuine kinship for the streets.

Because the treatment of the homeless and of skaters at the time were similar. Especially a young black man like Na-kel Smith who plays Ray, the oldest and most talented of the group, who occasionally nudges Stevie in a direction that an older brother or father should. He offers gentle encouragements that could only have been learned from his own time living and falling.

Mid90s has been compared much with the 1995 classic, Kids, for the obvious superficial similarities. Kids is about a day in the life of a group of New York City teenagers, their experimentation with dirty words, their required exaggerations of those novel sexual exploits, when every kiss and touch of a nipple felt like Rocky Balboa’s celebration at the top of the stairs. But as accurate as the youth’s depiction in Kids may have been, it was the product of generational cynicism, a sort of updated Reefer Madness that terrified parents on every friendless cul-de-sac than it did inspire more of an introspective art form. The similarities are there: Telly, the main teenage stalwart of awkwardness, intones to his friend about virgins. “I love ‘em. No diseases, no loose as a goose pussy, no skank. No nothin. Just pure pleasure.” It’s two excruciating hours of this. Watching it today, you don’t cringe for him and his clumsy gloating, but for yourself. We remember when this was the way it was—a collective effort of mentally inscribing the most irreverent displays from our older brothers and drunk uncles and coming to school each day as if to share our dirtiest vocal capabilities, gluing “pussy” with “cocksucker” with “your mom” like they were loose interchangeable Scrabble pieces. There’s a moment in Mid90s when Stevie first steps foot in the Motor Avenue skate shop, where he glimpses from behind a t-shirt rack at the private dialogue of his soon-to-be friends. They debate if they’d rather suck their dad’s dick or eat their mom out. Life or death. It’s as accurate of a moment as ever could be. Lunch hour was an endless joust of hypotheticals: would you rather break both legs or let your sister shit in your mouth. Debates that could run on for hours, fissuring our unrealized ideological confines. But there was always the bleary self-awareness that the whole thing was in jest, that life itself is just some strange ephemeral quip, fueled by waggery and drunkenness. Mid90s captured that integral lightheartedness within its dialogue that Kids didn’t.

Because at that age you’re still learning to form words, trying to croak out some meaning from your smutty orifice. As if there’s a vague awareness that we’ve only recently been weened off the teet, and our mouth is now told to perform, to interact casually and senselessly like normal adults do. Before you become a caricature of yourself, miming the sayings of pristine lawnmower American suburbia, drinking a light beer at your buddy’s bar-b-que, saying things like, “just nod your head and say she’s right,” as you all laugh together like you’ve never heard that witticism before. Mid90s is also the last hurrah of innocence before we start acting out these manufactured identities.

At its core, Mid90s is far more related to Hoop Dreams, the nearly three hour documentary that follows two inner-city Chicago teenagers, and their quest to make it into the NBA. Both films have a similar dialectic between chasing some endless victory lap of a debonair adolescence, sinking deeper into the impishness of being young and drunk forever, and pursuing the original dream of doing what you love professionally. In Hill’s film, Ray and Fuckshit begin as best friends, both with exceptional talent, who gradually drift apart amid their differing interests: Ray pursuing skating as a real, tangible career, and Fuckshit just getting more and more fucked up. This same wrestling of temptations underlies Hoop Dreams—it underlies our daily life. Every momentary lull gnawing with the beckoning of sabotage: am I going to drink more chamomile tea and finish this article, or overdose on ghb with my overweight landlord?

I was never much of a skateboarder, but I’ve surfed most of my life. And walking down the steps to the beach parking lot, there’s always the expected coven of old men, softly shuffling around the dusty blasphemous edge of the world with their shirts off, their dark brown beer-tits mummified forever by the sun, the scaled wrinkles folded over themselves. They still wear flip flops. They still ask me for pot. They still even surf on occasion. But most of all, they stand around like human seagulls, scavenging for the last morsels of cool, talking about their hippest days. It’s why a coming of age story with skateboarding serving as the glaring interest that the plot swirls around is so apt—we know this too will change, that our beloved maple-eyed protagonist lays in his hospital bed at the end of the film with two families that love him, with a myriad directions forward.

The skate documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys showed it without categorically declaring it so: the archived footage was of the Z-Boys as handsome sun-tendrilled kids; but their present day interviews were noticeably different. Stacey Peralta became a famous and respectable filmmaker, while Jay Adams slogged in and out of prison serving drug-related sentences, eventually dying at age 53. The blithe enviability of blond-haired grommets sneaking into backyard pools to skateboard disappears with old age.

Mid90s ends soon after the thwarting romance has fallen apart. These decisions are just beginning to be considered, when the audiences’ own desires for self-correction anticipates for a more comprehensive last verdict. It ends when it needs to end, before the rush of school shootings, before one or more of the friends gets addicted to meth, before the shuttering jolt into the next millennium and all its grotesque calamity. Jonah Hill lets us remember the last redeemable decade as it was, before the lights went out on us for good.

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The Hipsterdom of Decay

surfer

by Guy Walker

Imagine. You sputter your way north on the PCH in your 1972 VW bus—its teal-colored paint faded just enough, with morsels of ornament-sized rust dazzling the exterior, vintage surf stickers pasted randomly on the back window and bumper like a candid discharge of how authentic you really are. Your sun-baked arm is propped gently out the window, the coruscating morning breeze blowing your highlighted crusty tendrils so they tickle your nipples. You enjoy this, like when you allow a fly to walk along your arm, entangling itself in your arm hair because it secretly feels good. There’s a pretty girl beside you, also with her window down, staring contemplatively out at the drought-ridden hillsides pass by, but mostly she’s just staring at her epitomized reflection in the side-view mirror, her long hair whipping around her sunnies, her laissez-faire sex appeal cropped perfect for an Instagram post. There’s a stack of singlefins tied to the roof. A dog in the backseat. A folded Mexican blanket. A handplane and flippers. Go-Pros so you can document how similar to George Greenough you are. A bag of yerba mate, and an authentic gourd from Argentina. Kurt Vile is singing about his morning walks over the stereo. You have several tattoos blotted haphazardly around your arms and torso—one of them is ironic. You’ve done ayahuasca. And earlier this morning, you completed fifty sun salutations. You’ve made it, the poster child of cool. You’re a surfer and you look homeless. You’ve mimicked the various landmarks of unkemptness, and in doing so, achieved the granule celebrity of surf hipster.

And yet, we know we’re simulacral surf explorers, fabricating a sense of untethered adventure, going on little forays into sunny horizons and then scurrying back home to our assigned parking spaces and IPAs on draught. While every detail of cool is in its place, we still vaguely recognize we’re in a pit of vacuous simulation, feeling that we’ll be caught, that our cover of ‘not caring what others think’ will be exposed as fraudulent. Surf hipsterdom is just the current ephemeral trend, everyone aching to be an individual, to be sought after and unique. So we surf twin fins, homemade alaias, shoot with film, listen to Dick Dale, and mimic the schizophrenic styles of Alex Knost and Robin Kegel, who mimic the likes of Phil Edwards and others, who surfed the way they did because of their heavy boards, because the physics required them to. Edwards—one of the favorites in the history of California surfing—threw all his weight into turning his boards, throwing his hands up in the air just to keep his balance, thus creating his iconic style that many of us copy unnecessarily today. And perhaps I’m critical because I’m as guilty as anyone. I’ve tried my entire adult life to stand out from the rest, to shape my own surfboards, most of which are singlefins with bright abstract resin tints. I wear tattered retro wetsuits that don’t make any practical sense. I’ve grown my hair long and kept some form of hair on my face. It’s a pallid effort to single yourself out from the herd, to declare yourself an individual, until we’re all the same psychedelic cliché, like the tie dye shirts of the 60’s, everyone twirling in unison, crazed that they are a bright light in the universe.

Surf hipsterdom is a hobby for the young who are not that young anymore. We’ve grown up slow, stylizing ourselves as the innovators of nostalgia and not much else. Jay Adams—the idolized skateboarder from the Zephyr Team in Venice Beach—was iconic and celebrated because he was a cute child with long blonde hair, and didn’t know any better. He’s an important figure because he pushed skateboarding to a new level, perhaps without entirely realizing it. But before he died, he was an undesirable figure: inarticulate, uneducated, drug-abused, in and out of prison. To skate like him today, in many circles, is considered rebellious and alternative. It says you don’t care about competitions, you’re more elevated than that. But as far as the momentum of progression and innovation is concerned, it’s elementary and trite—it’s a sweet gesture, but you won’t be taken seriously.

Surfers and skaters today want to rehash everything that once was, digging through archival landfills of fads, resurrecting innovations that are now so old and pretending they’re new. Surfing and skating are unique in this respect. We don’t use smoke signals to communicate—we take pictures of our lunch on Instagram. We don’t wrap our genitals in large leaves and holler at the moon—we wear acid-washed jeans and sing pop songs. We don’t worship a white man with lightning bolts in the clouds—we adulate a woman with a fat ass who sucked a dick on camera. We’ve evolved. But more and more surfers are returning to ancient times, gliding on alaia surfboards—those primitive slabs of wood the Hawaiians surfed a thousand years ago. They walk hand in hand back in time, awing at the romance of nonfunctioning relics.

The hipster as a whole, admits he is merely the resemblance of something desirable. By definition, he is a cold naked body wrapped in a tailored rag of cotton. Maybe a beard too. We scoff at Kylie Jenner for puffing up her lips so she isn’t quite her flat-lipped chubby self, but how many shitty jawlines hide under the beards of hipsters? How many ugly pea-shaped heads take refuge under unwashed man buns? And more so, how many cruelly uninteresting men and women are disguised in torn jean jackets and nose piercings? We hipsters are the product of insecurities and unimaginative fuckery. We’re playing Halloween, dressing up as artists, intellectuals, creative-types, when the vast majority of us are merely shoving along, the dank humidity of life weighing heavily on.

There is something genuinely enjoyable about meandering up a coastline in an old car and a stack of surfboards, checking on various surf spots along the way, hoping to find one all to yourself, to feel like a penniless frontiersman for once. And maybe that authentic want of adventure spills into the contents of our day-to-day, as we try to communicate to others that this is what we do, that we’re carefree and not showered, that we surf waves. Our Instagram filters are vintage and sophisticated, and so is our reality. But a true frontiersman is exploring something new. It’s venturing into the landscape of innovation, without all the paralyzing vanity that wants to come along.

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