It’s Go Skateboarding Day! Go skateboarding!
Or, if you aren’t the type to go skateboarding, don’t. Most of us aren’t, really. I’m not. But I do love skateboard cinema and so should you. The kinetic energy of the sport has inspired countless films over the years, from the early experiments of the 1960s through the massive culture of skateboard videos on the web today. We’ve come a long way since 1965’s Palme d’Or-winning short film, Noel Black’s SoCal surf rock classic Skaterdater. The proliferation of amateur footage online is almost breathtaking, and much of it is a lot better than you might expect.
And, of course, the rough and tumble fight against gravity has inspired a whole bunch of excellent animation as well. The movement of the skateboarder and the aesthetics of skateboard culture beg for cartoon representation and a handful of filmmakers have risen to the challenge.
Looking Thru the B-Sides is a bizarre cross between a skateboard video and “Through the Looking Glass,” funded by FUEL TV and directed by Saiman Chow and the team at the Golden Lucky animation studio. The plot is pretty simple. A young skateboarder, affectionately named “Ollie,” heads out to go to his local skate park. Upon arrival, however, he finds the gate boarded up and covered in intimidating signage. In a rage he tears off one of the warnings and seems likely to hop the fence, only to be met by a buffoonish cop who looks lifted right out of a Rankin and Bass TV special. The subsequent chase leads down a manhole and into alternate dimensions, a bizarre journey through the borders of perception that takes up most of the short’s eight minutes.
It begins with stop motion. Ollie’s ride from home to the skatepark takes him past the cookie cutter small homes of some Southern Californian suburbia, under a muted sunset. Then, as he tumbles into a control room beneath the street, bits of video begin interrupting the stop-motion aesthetic. Screens displaying skateboards flash around this peculiar space, a room otherwise entirely in tune with the cool demeanor of the film. It foreshadows the subsequent stylistic shenanigans. Each sequence in Looking Thru the B-Sides is a giant leap ahead. The initially chill atmosphere yields to the insanity of another world, a frenetic metropolis of color into which Ollie falls.
After that has dazzled the viewer, the animators jump right from stop motion into black and white hand-drawn animation. The excuse, ostensibly, is a hallucination happening in Ollie’s mind. It’s thrilling and entrancing enough on the surface, without even beginning to get into the implications of having a 3D stop motion character dream in hand-drawn 2D animation. That’ll knock you off balance. The conclusion of the short does something similar, allowing for an incursion of live-action footage into the stop motion world. It arrives first as the introduction of a face in a single skateboard but soon widens into an entirely new format. It’s a lunatic triumph.
It’s also an excellent, exhilarating alternative form of entertainment for those of us that haven’t a clue how to do anything on an actual, physical skateboard. And even if you are planning on celebrating at a (hopefully still open) skatepark, it’s quite the inspiration.