Skateboard Madness

Director: Julian Pena Jr.       
: Stacey Peralta, Kent Senatore, Phil Hartman (narration)

In the late 1970s, the craze for skateboarding and roller-skating was at an all-time high, so several studios cashed in on the craze, with movies like Skatetown, Skateboard, and the infamous Roller Boogie. The awfulness of these movies is probably why no more were made during this period, and may explain why the last gasp, Skateboard Madness, got little to no release. Still, for a movie of this subject and this period, it does have some noteworthy aspects.

As you might have guessed, most of the movie is, well, devoted to the title. It starts off with a crude, but fun claymation running during the credits. ("Say nasty words out loud", says some of the graffiti during this segment.). Then there's some briefEat your heart out, Californa Raisins! skateboard footage with narration provided by future Saturday Night Live star Phil Hartmann. How he got involved in such a movie, I'd love to know. Then the "plot" starts- a lazy skateboard photographer (who could be Weird Al Yankovic's second cousin)  is told by his editor to get some decent photos - or else he's fired. The reporter drives to San Francisco and bumps into several young skateboard enthusiasts, who agree to travel with him all over California to give him great skateboarding footage. None of these actors deserves any mention, and needless to say, aside from Hartmann, none of them appeared anywhere again (though I believe I saw Peralta's name in the production credits of a TSN skateboard special a few years ago.

As I mentioned before, the movie is just an excuse to show "Wanna go for a ride, little boys?" us footage of skateboarding - cheap to make. I've never liked skateboarding, and watching it usually bores me. But Pena shoots this activity in a way that is filled with energy, shooting from various angles, using wide-angle lenses, and using slow motion wisely. He also uses the scenery to make spectacular backdrops to the action. It was good enough footage to almost make me want to take up the sport.

The action is also accomplished to a fabulous soundtrack, with music direction from Dennis Dragon (who is kin to Daryl Dragon The Surf Punks, pumped with intensity while performing, "My Wave" of "Captain and Tennille".) Dennis' group "Surf Punks", which released several albums and appeared in "Under The Boardwalk", also make an appearance to bring the story to a dead halt by appearing in a crude music video for their song "My Wave". But overall, the music fits perfectly with the dreamy direction and atmosphere.

The movie is not taken seriously, to its credit, and takes the time to perform some comedy bits. Some work, most don't, though even the bits that fail don't annoy the viewer. Most of these bits are simply padding. Do you expect a skateboarding script to do more? Hartman, pre-"Saturday Night Live", performs his own narration and it is amusing at times.

There is enough good stuff in Skateboard Madness to make a great 30-45 minute short. Like, totally awesome! Unfortunately, there is too much good stuff - namely, the same good bits are repeated over and over. We hear the same songs over and over. We see people doing the same techniques over and over. And over and over. Finally, the movie runs out of skateboarding footage and shows us surfing. Over and over. Then it shows us "snow skateboarding". Not over and over, but for a long boring chunk. When all of this material is repeated, the energy eventually runs out.

The movie ends with an animated short called "Hey, wait a minute - HEAVY METAL doesn't have stone waves! I knew I should have taken that left turn at Alberquerque!" "Karma II", by Tigerfly Productions, copyright 1977. The short is about skateboarding in another galaxy, in a space station skateboard park. The animation is quite good for this period, and the short is the best thing about the movie.

Although Skateboard Madness is not a strong movie overall, I admit that there was some very good stuff here. I think Pena could have been a great second-unit director, or even a regular director if he had a script. Since you'll probably find it at a mom-and-pop video store for 99 cents, and you'll have a fast forward button on your remote, you'll do better than a lot of movies out there.

UPDATE: "Mike Beer City" sent me this information about the movie:

"I read your review of Skateboard Madness. I feel you need to get a skateboarder's perspective of it.

"Since the '70s, I have skateboarded. Its a big part of my life, and without it I would be lost. From us skaters points of view, most of us like Skateboard Madness a lot. It's great - you get to see tons of skateparks and spots all over CA and some other parts of the USA. They go out on a huge skate mission to hit up as much stuff as they can. Most skaters dream of dropping everything and going on road trips like that.

"The movie shows all the different aspects of skateboarding. Plus the fact it was filmed over a three or four year period of time is great. You get to see both the skaters and equipment progress over time. A very interesting thing for us skateboarders. However i will admit... Some of the music is lame and yes the snow ski and ice skate parts are kinda lame to, but they do show the new ideas coming out of skateboarding at that time period, and are hilarious to watch.

"Most of the actors in the movie were skateboarders and not actors. Stacey Peralta went on to start his own skateboard company in the late 70's called Powell/Peralta. His company did very well up to the early 90's. At that time he sold his share in the company and became a director for Fox. From time to time, you will see his name in the credits of some Fox TV shows and movies. As far as the other 3 skaters in the movie, they all continued with their skateboard careers till skateboarding faded out in the early 80's. Mellow Cat also disappeared for the most part. In the late '80s, he was spoken about in a issue of Thrasher skateboard magazine, but that was it. I personally feel the whole idea of the movie was to show skateboarding, and the acting part came second.

"In short, Skateboard Madness did a great job of capturing a time in the not so distant past when skateboarding (like now) was at a high point and a national craze. Lots of the reason the movie did not do well was cause by the time it came out skateboarding was dying as a craze. I feel had it been released a year or two sooner it would have been a hit with skateboarders all across the country. To me (and many others), Skateboard Madness will always be a classic."

UPDATE 2: Miki Vuckovich sent me this:

"I just read your review of the late 70s classic, Skateboard Madness. I'm a producer with 411 Productions, the largest skateboard-video company in the skate industry. We're currently working with Hal Jepsen to release his classic Skateboard Madness on DVD under our new Classics ON Video label. We normally focus on new, modern skate videos, so this is a departure for us. But we feel strongly that this movie should be available in an authentic package put together by skateboarders.

"Skateboard Madness is a silly "movie," but it's an historic "skateboarding movie." I almost wrote "skate video," as that genre has proliferated immensely in the decades since Skate Madness hit.

"But Skateboard Madness has a certain ring to it that still excites skaters, particularly us older guys (I'm 34). That's why 411 is releasing it on DVD for the first time. It'll have bonus footage and interviews with Jepsen and star Stacy Peralta. This is an older cut of the film (it kept coming out with different content over the years). So no snowboarding or Surf Punks video.

"It's not the latest street-style action montage, but it is an important
historical document, and its campy humor reveals a basic characteristic of skaters from any era. We like to have fun rolling around, and we'll fall and slam if we need to in the pursuit of a good time.

"Your viewers can find out more about it on our Web sites:

Rob Stafford sent this in:

"This is based on memories 33 years old, and I was a fairly stupid kid at the time.
"But I had a teacher, at a Montessori style school called The Children's School, I believe it was Mike McKinney (& Mike, if you're out there, I hope I guessed right on the spelling), who worked on the claymation part of this film, or knew the guy who did the animation, or both.
"Somewhere shortly before I graduated (78? 79? 80?) to high school, they brought a projector in to the classroom (I want to think a BIG projector--maybe 16mm) and showed us that skate sequence, as well as a bunch of outtakes and behind the scenes footage for making it.  The whole skate park seemed immense (in terms of work) when they showed it--I want to say it was at least 8 or 10 feet on a side, maybe much bigger.
"A few years later, I caught part of the flick on TV, and was immensely impressed I knew someone related to it.  At this point, I'm impressed and happy to find myself back in that classroom--no matter how hazily.
"Thanks for writing about it!"

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Dogtown & Z-Boys, On Any Sunday, Biker Dreams