Sometimes all that it takes to convince me to watch a movie is to see that it’s playing at an Alamo Drafthouse theater. That was the case with Dragonslayer, although it didn’t hurt that it was sandwiched between a couple of other movies that I wanted to see. I bought the ticket without reading the description, assuming it to be the 1981 Peter MacNichol film of the same name. When I looked more closely and saw it to be a new skating documentary, I was still hopeful because even I don’t like skating, the film won an award for best documentary at the 2011 SxSW film festival. I can only assume it must not have had much competition.
The documentary focuses on Josh Sandoval, better known as Skreech. He’s a professional skateboarder (at least to the extent that he has sponsors who pay for some of his stuff), but it seems like a lot more of his income is from selling marijuana than skating prizes. He’s always broke and spends what little he has on drinking and drugs, but he lives a meager life and leeches as much as possible off his friends. He’s got a baby that he has largely abandoned, providing no financial support and rarely any contact, and he’s got a young girlfriend who seemed like she had a promising future before she met him.
Skreech travels a lot, and although many of the places he goes have skate parks, he often ends up skating in empty swimming pools. The down economy helps with that, since there are a number of uninhabited homes with private pools, and he even enlists the help of friends with computers to fire up Google Maps in order to scope out possible locations. Skating in swimming pools offers a number of challenges that skate parks don’t, primarily in the form of obstacles that need to be avoided. The sides are littered with jets and filters, there are often steps in the corner, and sometimes tiles make for an uneven surface. It’s frequently necessary to sop up small amounts of standing rainwater, and sometimes they have to avoid angry owners and neighbors.
I suppose that all of these challenges can perhaps account for the generally unimpressive nature of the skating. What we see in the movie is certainly not on par with what you’ll find in The X Games, and there are no 360s or handstands or grindy thingies on display here (even when they happen to be skating in a park instead of a pool). Mostly, they skate down one side and up the other, then back again. It’s probably vastly better than I could do (even after any amount of practice), but it’s pretty unimpressive when compared with what I had been expecting.
There’s also surprisingly less skating in the movie than I had expected. Much more of the time is spent watching Skreech’s uneventful life play out, watching him get drunk and/or high, complaining about the quality of his life, or hanging out with friends. He reveals in a sad, ripped-from-a-sitcom moment that the documentarians are there at his request, so we can add extreme (and exceedingly unwarranted) vanity to his long list of character flaws.
In many ways, Dragonslayer is a lot like Total Badass. Both tell the life stories of truly worthless and despicable people, but as the prevalence of reality television has shown, there are apparently a lot of worthless and despicable people in the world who like watching that sort of thing.