Bones Brigade: An Autobiography

Skate culture remains in solid hands with filmmaker Stacy Peralta, who fashions his most personal doc on the sport-cum-lifestyle.

Skate culture remains in solid hands with filmmaker Stacy Peralta, who fashions his most personal doc on the sport-cum-lifestyle with “Bones Brigade: An Autobiography.” Peralta turns his camera on himself and as well on the sensational titular skateboarding team, which he managed as part of his co-owned manufacturing enterprise, Powell Peralta, during the 1980s. The film makes a nice companion work to Peralta’s “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” and should score distrib and vid interest after a good fest spin.

“Bones Brigade” exemplifies Peralta’s knack for serving up stylish images and documenting wildly entertaining characters who could simply not be invented, in movies about surfing (“Riding Giants”) and skating (“Dogtown”). The team’s lineup of stars includes Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain and Tommy Guerrero, as well as trend-setting Alan “Ollie” Gelfand. Also featured are Peralta’s biz partner George Powell, and innovative and eccentric advertising art director Craig Stecyk. The sheer number of highly individual characters is almost too much for one movie.

Peralta sets the scene with a brief summary of his own terrific career as a skateboarder in the 1970s, and his desire to take the sport to the next level with Powell and their Santa Barbara-based outfit. Instead of scouting for stars, Peralta plucked talented but unknown kids vying in small competitions, some as young as 10-year-old wunderkind Caballero, who, in Peralta’s words, “had the fire.” Hawk, for one, was so intensively competitive that after numerous hospital visits for injuries, his doctor checked to see if he was being beaten by his parents. Mullen freestyled moves on boards so weird and innovative that his act stopped people in their tracks to watch. Mountain, meanwhile, is the team’s class clown, and proved to be the star of the many videos of the crew that Peralta shot (like the notorious cult “Animal Chin” vid), which launched his career as a filmmaker.

“Bones Brigade” effectively draws a group portrait of highly determined kids, each of whom pushed the others to excel, guided by the sympathetic but apparently not too-firm hand of camp counselor Peralta. The team was startled, for example, when Gelfand came up with the groundbreaking “Ollie” jump, in which his board would fly above the lip of the bowl-like skating ramp and then spin 180 degrees downward. But before long, guys were doing 360 degree spins — and so it went.

The film devotes a large chunk of screen time to each boy’s struggles and breakthroughs, sprinkled with comic and poignant anecdotes. They range from Hawk feeling blue from the pressures of winning so often that he was expected to do so every time out, to Mullen’s lifelong battles with a speech impediment.

The Brigade’s decade saw the sport take a nosedive in popularity, with a lack of decent places to skate, but then experienced a revival when the team held contests on ramps built in the backyards of the homes of supporters. All of this is richly illustrated with Peralta’s typically kinetic mix of archival and homevid footage, and a bevy of color and black-and-white photos.

Fittingly for its sport, the doc is addicted to speed, and this history flies by, even while certain sections and anecdotal asides are obviously suitable for paring; in fact, a 10-minute trim would make the doc an even more commercial theatrical entry. Still, Josh Altman’s editing (with Peralta’s considerable contribution) keeps things moving at a highly entertaining clip, along with a smashing soundtrack overseen by music supervisor Debra MacCulloch. Talking-heads lensing is standard, but the guys oncamera make it all come alive with unquenchable emotion and enthusiasm.

Bones Brigade: An Autobiography


  • Production: A Union Avenue Prods. and Non-Fiction Unlimited presentation. (International sales: the Film Sales Co., New York.) Produced by Stacy Peralta, John Oliver, Nadine Brown. Executive producers, James Truitt, Albert Alan. Co-producers, Penny Edmiston, Michael Furukawa, Don Paul Hoffman. Directed by Stacy Peralta.
  • Crew: Camera (color/B&W, DV) Patrick Darrin; editor, Josh Altman; music supervisor, Debra MacCulloch; production designer, Beth Goodnight; sound (stereo), Caleb Mose; supervising sound editor, Eric Lalicata; re-recording mixer, Mose. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Documentary Premieres), Jan. 21, 2012. (Also in Santa Barbara Film Festival.) Running time: 111 MIN.
  • With: With: Stacy Peralta, Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerrero, George Powell, Alan "Ollie" Gelfand, Craig Stecyk, Shepherd Fairey, Spike Jonze, Fred Durst, Ben Harper, Garth Trinidad, Dhani Harrison, Tony Alva, Christian Hosoi.
  • Music By: