Documentary filmmakers have found a lot of compelling stories in the world of skateboarding: in the history, the personalities, and the aesthetic beauty of the sport itself. Tristan Patterson’s documentary Dragonslayer isn’t really one of those mythologizing, only-in-America, “wasn’t that a time?” kind of films. Patterson’s subject is Josh “Screech” Sandoval, a SoCal burnout in his mid-20s who’s technically a “professional skater” in that he has sponsors, and gets to skate all around the country and the world. But the footage of Sandoval skating in Dragonslayer mostly shows him crashing spectacularly, then puking his guts out. He has his moments of not-bad-ness—such as when he wins $90 and a gift certificate for free tattoos—but there’s no evidence here that Sandoval is exceptionally talented. One European fan sums up Sandoval’s appeal as fundamentally punk rock: It’s “random chaos.”
That’s not exactly the appeal of Dragonslayer though—or at least that doesn’t seem to be what Patterson is going for. The movie has an actual structure, with on-screen chapter titles that count down from 10 to 0; and it has a story of sorts, about Sandoval and his anarchist teenage girlfriend trying to find a place to live, while Sandoval negotiates with his ex to spend more time with his infant son. Meanwhile, Sandoval tools around with a buddy who uses Google Earth to find empty pools where he can shoot skate videos. And during the many, many hours of the day when Sandoval and his people aren’t doing anything productive, they smoke pot, drink beer, pop pills, and philosophize.
The biggest problem with Dragonslayer is that it seems to be missing some significant parts of its subject’s story: not his past (much of which can be inferred), but where he’s headed now that his boyhood dreams of becoming a skate legend have dissolved into the reality of a baby who needs to be fed and clothed. Still, Sandoval’s milieu—made of decrepit homemade skate ramps and fading punk-rock T-shirts—is a memorable one, and while Patterson goes a little overboard on the arty impressionism, he does capture the feeling of a world coming to an end. As Sandoval looks at his own picture in a coffee-table book about skaters, just before he cashes in that gift certificate for a tattoo of a rocket ship (to honor his son, Sid Rocket), it’s as though Sandoval is assuring that there’s a permanent record of his life before he succumbs to ordinary adulthood.
Key features: Nothing. A total wipeout.