Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator Movie Review
While Dogtown was a historical document concerned with chronicling the circumstances and socio-economic conditions that created its particular subculture of rough-and-tumble skaters in the 1970s, Stoked takes place in the 1980s, well after the sport was established, though still on the fringe on mainstream culture. Its hero, if you can call him that, is Mark "Gator" Rogowski, one of the hottest vertical skaters in the late 1980s. A charming, brash, death-defying antihero, he not only outperformed many of the other skaters on the pro circuit at the time, but also turned his popularity into a managed media circus. Captured on video and film, and featured all over the ads that filled out the pages of skate magazines like Thrasher, Gator made himself into a poster boy for a sport that had more to do with freedom and attitude than regimented athleticism. He even scored a small part in the 1989 Christian Slater skater classic, Gleaming the Cube. Before the age of 20, Gator was making over $15,000 a month.
Key among the advertisers who pushed Gator into stardom was Vision, the skateboarding behemoth that tried to be to skaters in the 1980s what Nike would be to, well, every other sport in the known world. Vision made Gator boards, Gator-print shorts, used his face and moniker in just about every manner possible, and was a major factor in turning him over the space of a few short years, into a joke in the hardcore skating community. The neon-print Vision clothes - which no self-respecting Thrasher reader would ever wear, the Club MTV appearance (hilariously dated footage of which is fortunately included here), all of it signaled a star on the wane.
By the end of the decade, the style of skating that Gator epitomized, vertical (or "vert") skating on a ramp, was losing ground to guerrilla-style street skating. Laughably unable to master the new moves and hopelessly overexposed by Vision, Gator turned to drinking and even born-again Christianity in an attempt to find a place for himself in a world that had moved past him.
Gator's violent behavior and alienated attitude reached a pinnacle in 1991 when, separated from his blonde betty, Brandi McClain (who featured in many of his print ads), Gator sexually assaulted and strangled Brandi's friend Jessica Bergsten, dumping her body in the desert. After finally confessing to the crime, Gator was sentenced to 31 years in prison.
It's a sad end to what looked to have been a pretty fun life, but the film stays away from the expected Behind the Music-style arc here. There's no redemption at the end, and the viewer only hears Gator's disembodied voice on a phone interview (California law prohibits the filming of convicts). Person after person comes on the screen identified as "former friend," offering no excuses for his behavior, the general attitude seeming to be: It was just skating, how come he thought he was a rock star? Gator's crime may have marked the end of an era - skating's Altamont, perhaps - when the sport started to move from the fringe into the ESPN-financed, X-treme mania that it is today. But Stoked resists the urge to hang too much importance on the act of one unhinged ex-star.
The parade of talking heads who fill the screen between director Helen Stickler's impressively-chosen clips of skaters in action are a well-spoken and well-informed bunch, from superstars like Tony Hawk and Steve Caballero to Dogtown chronicler Stacy Peralta and even McClain. However it must be said that many of the interviews are less personal, and feel a little more staged than those with the same people in Dogtown, if only because that film's interviewer, Peralta, was so well-known to those he was talking to. The skate footage, though, is definitely eye-catching and is cued to an excellent punk soundtrack. And if, in the end, Stoked just falls a little short of Dogtown, that's hardly a complaint.
DVD extras included bonus skate footage, home movies, and extended scenes.