Watching this film in a cinema on the outskirts of Melbourne CBD, a mere ten minute drive from where the climax of the film takes place, a Chekov quote comes to mind: “You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible.” It’s a line that the greatest writers and thinkers have been saying in different forms since the dawn of man – Bukowski, Carver et al most recently spat it out regularly. But here it feels oddly more appropriate than anything else.
All This Mayhem, a documentary about skateboarders, not about skateboarding, tells the story of the Pappas brothers, two young boys that grew up skating around the Prahran and Northcote areas. Like the stereotype of skaters goes, they hated everyone else that didn’t find joy in riding a board on a ramp or concrete or anything possible. Self-confessed bogans, they film themselves calling rollerbladers “wankers” for their own amusement upon later review.
Directed by Eddie Martin, it concerns Tas and Ben Pappas’ rise to the top and, like all great stories, a sudden plummet to the concrete below. A humorous subplot details a small feud with the brothers and the King of skating, Tony Hawk. It’s not imperative to the story but adds weight to an authenticity behind Martin’s direction: the Pappas boys are, or were, “assholes,” if one of the interviewees is to be believed. This footage certainly suggests so, even if it’s good natured.
But they’re fun. And funny. That’s all the direction they had throughout their teens, with Tas remarkably deciding he was going to work for a year, save up all the money he could, and fly to the States to compete with the big guns in California: Danny Way, Tommy Caudill, Lance Conklin and the rest. That he did this at age sixteen makes it even more incredible.
Matching, and occasionally beating, the deep well of Californian skate talent soon after arriving confirmed his status as a legendary skater was imminent. And it was. At twenty-one he was crowned world number one, beating favourite Tony Hawk by the smallest of gaps.
This is where their story could have ended for the Pappas brothers. Live out their days as legends of the scene and get their face on a range of merchandise, much like their foe Hawk, and spend their days skating under the sun with their wives and children. But that was never meant to be. As Tas comments towards the end, their future could not be altered. “It was as if we’d never left St. Albans.” He is pained to imagine an alternate outcome.
The pair ran too rampant with success; blowing all the money their company’s sponsorship rewarded them with, forcing XYZ skateboards to close doors. Suffering painful injuries from years of falling off their boards, both get involved in drugs as pain relief. Too much for Ben, who is later arrested at Melbourne airport after returning from LAX with a small baggie of cocaine in the base of his shoe. That his credit card is lined with the stuff, leading the airport staff to searching his belongings, is the stuff of comic tragedy.
How their stories end, or take on new beginnings, is both depressing and pathetic. Their parents are both useless in their raising of them – a story is recounted by Tas of their mother smashing their father over the head with an ashtray in the family home – and though one cannot find fault with the parents for their every decision, one suspects their lack of guidance is not fully innocent. “We were young, we partied,” recounts Tas, a summation of all he knew on what to do next.
There’s a hundred different people the brothers could blame their outcomes on, and their successes. But as an interviewee says, “they burned a lot bridges. To the ground.” Hawk is suggested to have played a part in stopping Tas’ hopeful phoenix uprising, something that would be hilarious if it wasn’t so heartbreaking. Life did become impossible for one of them. Tas had Ben, Ben had Tas. Without one the other could not function.
A documentary based on skaters, skateboarding is the least of Martin’s concerns. It’s a powerful story about the heyday of two Melbourne boys that should never have been with the crème de la crème of California’s best, but they were. And they deserved it. But they didn’t know what to do with it.
[rating=4] and a half
Nicholas Brodie – follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire