Posts Tagged ‘sport’

Director: David Street

Country: UK, Spain, USA

Runtime: 104 mins

The Flying Scotsman rides again

Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree is a sporting figure of remarkable tenacity. The 2006 dramatic biopic The Flying Scotsman tells the story of how, despite psychological difficulties and run-ins with the cycling authorities, he twice broke the world one-hour distance record on a bicycle (“Old Faithful”) that he had constructed from scrap metal and parts of a washing machine.

David Street’s new documentary film, Battle Mountain, covers a subsequent period in Obree’s life and career after the cyclist decides to enter the World Human Powered Speed Championships. Adopting a filming strategy in which Obree is never asked to repeat any behaviours for the camera, Street observes as the Scot constructs a new bicycle, to be ridden prone-style, in his kitchen at home. Obree complains that people only remember him as a bloke that made a racing bike out of a washing machine (“It was only one part”, he says), yet is soon proudly cutting pieces out of a saucepan to make shoulder supports. There are some wonderfully comic moments, not least when Obree enlists his two sons to squeeze him between the living room wall and a piece of furniture in order to determine the width of the narrow aerodynamic shell that will encase his bike.

During the course of developing and testing the new machine Obree opens up about the psychological problems that he has faced in his life, partly explored in the earlier film, and the contributory factors, which have resulted in suicide attempts. In terms of his psychological well-being a lot appears to be at stake for Graeme in taking on the challenge of breaking the world speed record. However, things do not go smoothly. At one point during training he experiences an unfortunate side-effect from anti-depressant medication, leading to a hospital operation and an enforced period of recuperation.

But perhaps worse than this, the new bike – nicknamed “The Beastie” by Sir Chris Hoy – turns out to be highly unstable. Nonetheless, Obree persists through all the psychological, physical and technical difficulties and finds himself at the allocated location for the Championships – Battle Mountain in Nevada – in September of 2013. His psychologist, he opines, would not be pleased to know about the pressure he is putting himself under. For those who don’t already know the outcome I won’t spoil things by revealing what transpires, but suffice to say that you would need a heart of stone not to come away full of admiration for this most extraordinary of athletes. Battle Mountain is an enthralling, funny and ultimately joyous addition to the pantheon of against-the-odds sports stories.

Rating: 4/5

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Skateboard legend Tas Pappas, during the Q&A session for “All This Mayhem”, at the British Film Institute, London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australia / UK 2014

Director: Eddie Martin

Runtime: 96 mins

It’s “wheels on fire” in this fabulous skateboarding documentary

If there is any justice in the world All This Mayhem will do for skateboarding what Senna did for F1 motor racing, by which I mean it deserves to find an audience of people who are not already followers of skateboarding. The film tracks the extraordinary rise and fall of Australian boarders Tas and Ben Pappas who, in the 1990s, successfully challenged the dominance of American star Tony Hawk only to have their worlds come crashing down around them in the most dramatic fashion. There are several parallels with Senna and, in fact, producer James Gay-Rees and editor Chris King both worked on that movie.

Like Senna, All This Mayhem is a combination of talking heads and recorded footage obtained from various sources. As a non-boarder I was duly impressed by the skills of this sport’s stars, though for me the boarding footage didn’t quite have the dramatic impact of, for example, Ayrton Senna’s incredible drive at Monaco in the rain or his on-track entanglements with Alain “The Professor” Prost. Where director Eddie Martin’s film really hits paydirt, however, is in the off-ramp footage of the wild Pappas brothers and, surprisingly, the interviews – especially those featuring Tas Pappas himself. Watching the scenes of the very young Pappas brothers and their friends made me nostalgic for a youth that I myself didn’t experience – wild and carefree – and in the interviews recorded for the film Tas Pappas is passionate, funny and rueful.

Tas describes himself and brother Ben as “bogans”, the Australian equivalent of the American term “white trash”. Domestic violence was part of the background to their upbringing, with their mother apparently giving their father at least as good as she got. After a spell learning “death blows” in martial arts training, Tas, and brother Ben, gravitated towards the vertical ramp skateboarding scene in Melbourne’s suburbs, a sport that clearly enabled them to express their individuality. The two of them were devoted to developing their skills, though had somewhat different approaches. Ben would work on his “lines”, repetitively working on a move until he had nailed it, whereas Tas was more inclined to “barnes” it – to decide upon some tricky move and just go for it. Once they had dominated the local scene, they somehow managed to scrape together the cash to head to America, with the explicit intention of dethroning American star Tony Hawk.

Tas Pappas (centre) with friends, following the UK premiere of All This Mayhem, at the British Film Institute.

Right from their early days, drug use – cocaine, speed, marijuana, magic mushrooms – was a part of the scene and performances on the ramp were routinely done under the influence of one or other substance. Clearly some of the boarders felt that drug use enhanced their creative skills on the ramp. Whether or not this was true, the Pappas brothers were soon vying with Tony Hawk for the top spot at boarding events. Their talent helped to revive vertical ramp boarding, which had been in something of a decline. However, the brothers were somewhat disdainful of Hawk’s performances, believing that the American  organisers often gave him undue credit for good but unadventurous moves (again, there are parallels with the disputes with the sporting authorities in Senna – and indeed in Rush, too). In 1996, at the Hard Rock Cafe World Championships, Ben Pappas was unable to perform to his best due to a back injury. This left Tas and Tony Hawk to fight it out. Hawk, again, played it steady but Tas decided to barnes it. He scored highly but broke his ribs in a fall. Hawk and Tas Pappas were now tied. Ben Pappas raged at the judges, because he couldn’t understand why Tas hadn’t won. In the event, there was a playoff and, for a second time, Tas barnesed it. He won.

In Senna, some motor racing fans felt that Alain Prost had been somewhat unfairly depicted. However, that is nothing compared to the pantomime villain that Tony Hawk is made out to be in All This Mayhem. Apparently Hawk told Ben Pappas that he felt he should have been judged the winner at the Hard Rock Cafe event. Ben then verbally laid into Hawk. Torn between playing the magnanimous victor or supporting his brother, Tas opted for the latter, telling Hawk to “Fuck off Hawk, ya fucking wanker!” I don’t know how fair the portrayal of Hawk is, but this last line led to a huge burst of laughter and applause in the audience around me, many of whom were obviously boarders or fans of the sport. Hawk is also the recipient of Tas’s disdain for willingly allowing the sport to be turned into a branch of showbiz, doing any number of inane stunts for money, whereas Tas is committed to the rebellious individualism of boarding’s street roots.

Following Tas’s victory at the Hard Rock Cafe World Championships, he and Ben fell into a pattern of wild partying, a period that became even more extended after Tas was diagnosed with a back injury. Eventually, Ben decided to head back to Australia but got arrested at Sydney airport after cocaine was found in one of his skate shoes. Of course, he was told that he would not be allowed back into America, which meant he could no longer compete on the international stage. Depression gave way to heroin abuse. A relationship with a fellow junky resulted in her death at Ben’s hands, and his suicide shortly afterwards.

Tas managed to get himself straightened out for a while, motivated by Ben’s death and his own fatherhood. However, after taking speed at an event as a way to deal with pain, he slipped back into old habits and eventually got arrested for the same crime as his brother – attempting to enter Australia in possession of cocaine. Tas was imprisoned in 2008 and released in 2012.

All This Mayhem is really a story of a loss of innocence, of young lads who mistakenly thought they could remain wild young rebels forever. Tas and Ben Pappas could just as well have been early tragic rock stars as skateboarders, pioneers without a route map to guide them through the dangerous realm of success. By the same token, when Tas champions the purity of devil-may-care individualism, with no thought of monetary gain, against the ESPN-sponsored showbiz events, it is hard not to cheer him on.

Rating: 10/10

Correction, 15th June 2014 – I originally inadvertently referred to the Pappas brothers getting involved in the “Sydney” boarding scene, when of course I should have said “Melbourne”