Dragonslayer is a film so drenched in skate culture, it’s fair to say that an interest in said culture is probably beneficial to one’s ability to fully love this film. Having said that, I come from a perspective of little-to-no interest in skateboarding yet I still managed to find something worthwhile in the creative vision behind this tale of a down-and-out ex-professional skateboarder dealing with unexpected fatherhood while searching for the perfect empty pools to skate.
The film follows Josh “Screech” Sandoval as he navigates a teenage existence of drugs, parties, skating, and travelling; all while trying to be a Dad. Actually, I’m not even sure of Screech is a technically a teenager, but he certainly carries himself in the same disaffected, irresponsible, self-centred fashion. The film is a sort of coming of age tale, taking place during an endless summer that consists mostly of getting high and invading backyards to take advantage of empty pools throughout the suburbs of Fullerton, California. There’s a sense of wasted potential on display as Screech attempts to rationalize his decision to leave pro-skating while remaining ‘active’ by giving half-assed performances at small skate competitions. Luckily he manages to hook up with a girl who seems equally lethargic and the perfect companion with which to waste the summer away. In one scene the couple takes Screech’s new baby to a zoo. It’s his first day out alone with the kid and his inability to re-assemble the collapsable stroller shows his level of involvement in the upbringing of his son. It’s probably for the best. Some might find a way to romanticize this story as kids coming of age, but I couldn’t get past my distaste for practically everybody in this film to approach things from such an ideal perspective. (I say this cautiously and with a degree of trepidation as my experience with these people is limited only to the running time of this film.)
HAVING SAID ALL OF THAT…Dragonslayer does feel like an authentic experience and that’s what elevated it beyond it’s characters for me. It’s stylized and kinetic and that energy compliments the kids perfectly. You could say Dragonslayer is a sort of non-fiction, modern update of Kids, only with more skateboarding and less AIDS. No AIDS, in fact. These characters might make poor choices, but they’re not as flat out despicable as the teens in Larry Clark’s film. (It’s worth noting that both Kids and Dragonslayer were produced by indie icon Christine Vachon.) It’s also probably no coincidence that Dragonslayer is distributed by record label Drag City, who also released Harmony Korine’s lo-fi, found footage film Trash Humpers. While Dragonslayer might be a bit more accessible than something like Trash Humpers (or even Kids), it still exists within the same sub-genre of aimless hang-out films that indulge in the attitude, fashions, and aesthetics of a particular counter-culture. The thing I always struggle with in these films is the filmmaker’s insistence upon treating the actions of their characters as dysfunctional while glorifying their surroundings. Some of the weight of Josh’s decisions feels muted when placed against a punk rock soundtrack and music video aesthetics.
While Dragonslayer is shot quite well, there are a few seemingly superfluous artistic choices that stood out to me. Mainly the idea of breaking down the story into numbered chapters, counting backwards from ten. It seems like an attempt at bringing some order to the otherwise chaotic narrative, but I found myself questioning what seemed to be nothing more than a stylistic flourish. In fact, it almost gave me a false sense of impending doom or a hint of some cataclysmic event to come. It’s not really a deal breaker though. It was the dynamic editing style of Dragonslayer that caught my attention, even if some of the imagery seems stuck somewhere between a Vice Magazine photo spread and a Levi’s commercial. Still, there is some inspired filmmaking on display that’s refreshingly playful within the documentary constraints. I’m all for the sort of visual experimentation that Tristan Patterson injects into his film and I’m not about to discount it simply because I don’t have a vested interest in the subject matter.
The fact that I didn’t love Dragonslayer is irrelevant as I don’t think the goal of the film is wide scale acceptance. It’s mere existence seems rooted in provocation. It seems both willing to criticize the actions of its characters yet ready to call the viewer out on any judgement they might cast upon its subjects. The film is caught somewhere between cautionary and cool. Still, I do appreciate it as another interesting entry in the new generation modern documentary filmmakers who continually push the boundaries of non-fiction storytelling.
— Jay C.
DRAGONSLAYER THEATRICAL SCREENINGS (MORE DATES TBA)
11/04-11/10/11 – NEW YORK, NY @ Cinema Village
11/11-11/17/11 – LOS ANGELES, CA @ Downtown Independent (w/ additional screenings tba)
11/18-11/24/11 – SAN FRANCISCO, CA @ Roxie Cinema
11/18-11/24/11 – DALLAS, TX @ Texas Theatre
12/02-12/08/11- PORTLAND, OR @ TBC
12/02-12/08/11 – SEATTLE, WA @ Northwest Film Forum
12/02-12/08/11 – BELLINGHAM, WA @ Pickford Film Center