Two years ago, former kick-flipper Stacy Peralta gave us Dogtown And Z-Boys, an exceptional documentary about skateboarding's scruffy, haphazard '70s rebirth. Although largely upbeat on the sport's shift from parochial, lo-fi craze to scuffed-up subculture, the celebration did come with a sting: namely, the fate of precocious talent Jay Adams, whose tenuous grip on his newfound fame slipped into the ego wilderness of substance abuse.
An unofficial sequel of sorts, Stoked picks up the story where Peralta's account tails off, grabbing the leash and splashing its '80s skateboys from moshpit to mainstream. Bailing on Dogtown's scratchy edits, Stoked certainly isn't as artful as its predecessor, but what it has over Peralta's movie is a jowl-ironing sense of melodrama: Jay Adams' fate is a mild abrasion compared to the grim destiny of Mark `Gator' Rogowski.
A skate professional at the corruptible, tender age of 14, Gator's rise to infamy was cemented when he lamped a copper at the Mount Trashmore skate exhibition. The fact that this moment of organic, punky rage was rewarded by a contract to become the face of Vision Skateboards neatly sums up skating's Faustian pact with '80s corporate America, eager to flog the ultimate oxymoron: mass-branded anarchy.
Sadly, the personal cost to Gator is still being calculated. Rapidly sucked into a whirlpool of his own rampant self-promotion, his attempts at selling himself as a go-getter rebel are often hilarious. But when his gymnastic `vert' style is suddenly made obsolete, Gator's fall from disgrace manifests itself in an act of truly shocking violence and the doc switches to psychological thriller.
Director Helen Stickler apparently took six years to make Stoked and it shows in every second: archive footage, rare outtakes and home videos are all used to paint a compelling portrait of a turbulent soul. Her talking heads are great value too - - but Gator isn't one of them. His contributions are limited to a crackly prison-phone interview, a distancing technique that only makes the man - - and movie - - even more enigmatic. "Well, you try unravelling him," Stickler seems to say. You might not get far, but it'll feed a dozen scandalised conversations. Essential.
Hell is a halfpipe: this tragedy of a swashbuckling skate-stud gone bad is outstanding. You'll laugh, you'll flinch, you'll watch it again.