Style prevails over substance in frustrating skate-punk doc
Published: December 15, 2011
Tristan Patterson’s Dragonslayer, a beautifully photographed and designed documentary, follows perpetually dazed 23-year-old California skater Josh “Skreech” Sandoval during an aimless year of (alleged) corporate sponsorship, half-assed attempts at parenthood, homelessness, aimlessness, depression, drugs and alcohol until he hits a dead end of unexamined nothingness. “I think you might be a Communist,” says Leslie, his supposedly gifted teenage girlfriend. “I don’t really know enough to be offended,” Skreech responds. No kidding.
Co-executive produced by indie maverick Christine Vachon and distributed by Drag City, a record label whose only other venture into feature films was Harmony Korine’s divisive Trash Humpers, Dragonslayer feels like a very well-told lie. From the cooing soundtrack of the year’s most defining shoegazers to Eric Koretz’s bravura cinematography, which showers these puking punks in fiery light as if it’s a Wieden + Kennedy ad campaign, to Leslie’s pixie-beautiful face, which Patterson can’t stop rack-focusing, the stage is perfectly set for an urgent document of youth in post-collapse America.
If only Dragonslayer’s subject were even remotely interesting. Skreech is a mediocre skater in a world of suburban wreckage and questionable skate contests that dole out T-shirts, tattoo coupons and $90 cash prizes. Not only can he not engage in the most basic of conversations, he can hardly eat a cheeseburger the right way. Sure, Leslie finds it slightly appealing, but no matter how much Patterson wants us to love her – and, by proxy, perhaps, Skreech – she never demonstrates an ounce of self-preservation.
What are we to take away from the experience, then? That today’s kids have no future and react to that with shocking indifference and clichéd hedonism? If so, that’s a terribly uninteresting turn for punk culture. Then again, Patterson is an impressionistic filmmaker – a good one – so perhaps it’s just that the idea of a film crew following around teenagers who’ve done practically nothing to merit attention (see: MTV or E! networks at any time of day) hasn’t only lost its novelty but has outlived its usefulness.
> Email Justin Strout