American history usually starts with a discussion of pivotal personalities like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Similarly, the study of modern skateboarding often properly begins with a discussion of its first breakout superstars — only their names are Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain and Tommy Guerrero.
These are the framers of the sport's constitution. Every time you see some kid flip a board on the street, or watch a skateboarder flash across the television screen in the latest Walmart/Verizon/Doritos commercial, you witness their formidable influence. Perhaps even more miraculous than each of their singular contributions to the sport's development is this fun fact: They were all on the same team.
That legendary dream team was called the Bones Brigade, and their 1980s skate dynasty is the subject of a new documentary titled Bones Brigade: An Autobiography. A selection at this year's Sundance Film Festival, it will be shown 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, at the newly renovated Franklin Theatre.
As the self-referential title suggests, the film's director, Stacy Peralta — a former professional skater, skateboard company owner, and now an accomplished documentarian — was the Bones Brigade's impresario. Not only did Peralta pluck his stable of pubescent skate-stars from obscurity, carefully cultivate their mystique, and nurture the sport's first super-team (under the banner of his paradigm-shifting company Powell and Peralta), he also revived a flagging industry that could easily have gone the way of the hula hoop.
The proof of Peralta's prescience was the Brigade's enduring impact. Whether it was Tony Hawk's "McSqueeb" haircut or Peralta's revolutionary discovery that there was a vast, untapped audience for professional-quality skateboarding videos (Future Primitive, The Search for Animal Chin), the Bones Brigade's influence can hardly be exaggerated.
"It felt like skateboard mania," observes affable pro Lance Mountain of their Beatles-esque moment in the sun, which included cameos in such cinematic classics as Gleaming the Cube, Thrashin' and Police Academy 4. Without the Brigade there would be no X Games, no Dew Tour, no Shaun White.
In 2001, Peralta's first documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boyz, proved that a movie about a ragtag band of 1970s skateboarders could find a mainstream audience by illuminating timeless themes such as lost innocence, the price of greatness, and the perils of falling too deeply for the proverbial California Dream. In Bones Brigade, Peralta again proves an adept interviewer. He draws out many a tearful moment from his engaging cast, even as he leavens the narrative with self-deprecating humor.
Nevertheless, all the Brigade alums, unlike many of their far more dysfunctional Dogtown predecessors, went on to highly productive adult lives. There is teen angst, but nothing ultimately tragic about the arc of the Brigadiers' careers. In every way it is a brighter picture than Peralta's earlier tale, one that marries a beautiful trove of archival material to an effervescent soundtrack, and it possesses an idiosyncratic charm that transcends the cloistered world it depicts.
As a side note, the Franklin screening — one of the few in the South — was organized by Donny Myhre, the disarmingly wholesome owner of the Franklin Skate Shop, to celebrate the store's five-year anniversary. Like the characters on screen, Myhre was a noted pro skater in the 1980s. (Myhre rode for Zorlac skateboards.) Since his shop's inception, he and his brother Sam have helped build a vibrant skateboarding scene in Williamson County. Anyone interested in seeing a heartfelt and funny film, while simultaneously supporting Myhre's efforts to build a gnarly yet nurturing skate community, would do well to attend. It's an event that can only be described as rad.