Stacy Peralta has directed and/or written multiple documentaries and feature films about the history of skateboarding and surfing, which are subjects he knows firsthand from his experience as a pioneering pro. It’s surprising it’s taken him so long to get around to making Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, a documentary about the formidable team of teen skateboarders he and his deck-making partner George Powell assembled in the 1980s. Edited together from old video footage and new interviews, Bones Brigade tells the story of how the Powell/Peralta brigade thrived throughout the end of pro skateboarding’s first big wave, then helped keep the sport alive in its dark ages, using skate videos, street skating, and middle-of-nowhere events to help revive skating first as an underground culture, then as big business. Without the Bones Brigade, it’s doubtful Peralta could’ve interested many in Dogtown And Z-Boys or Lords Of Dogtown, his movies about skateboarding’s early days.
The usual repetitive shots of skaters rolling through bowls and half-pipes keeps Bones Brigade from being as consistently thrilling as it could be, but what it lacks in visual variety, it makes up in raw information. This is a movie for anyone who’s ever wanted to know how tricks like the Olly and the McTwist came to be, or who’ve wondered exactly how Tony Hawk became a superstar. (Suggested alternate title: This Film Is About A Superhero Named Tony.) Peralta tells the story step by step, with ample archival footage to show how the Bones Brigade stars looked when they were skinny nerds, and how they grew into men capable of physical feats so advanced that the existing skateboarding community wasn’t even sure how to evaluate them at first.
Bones Brigade is surprisingly emotional and inspirational too, as these now-grown men look back on the days when they were competitive, easily bruised kids, drawn to Peralta’s calming, avuncular presence. Nowhere is that clearer than in the story of Rodney Mullen, a driven youngster who, like Hawk, spent hours designing and perfecting tricks no one had ever imagined before, while dealing with sometimes-crippling anxieties. Bones Brigade captures the camaraderie and creativity of its times (and the quirks of one-of-a-kind weirdoes like Lance Mountain), all scored to ’80s punk and new wave. Even more, it gets how seriously these men took a craft they were reinventing every day, and how that devotion spawned an industry.