STOKED: THE RISE AND FALL OF GATOR – DVD review

A rapid rise to stardom, replete with wealth, fame, fans, and groupies clamoring for a piece of the newly formed celebrity can be hard to take for the best-rounded individual. When it happens to a child, through music or acting, they need parental guidance to help keep them grounded in reality. But what happens when a slacker, a high school drop-out who has excelled only at breaking the rules, is given that power and responsibility? What if they don’t have the guidance or maturity to handle an influx of fame and wealth?

“Stoked” is the story of one such person. “Gator” Mark Rogowski, also known as Mark Anthony, is one of the earliest (and perhaps the first) superstars of the skateboarding world. In a time when skateboarding was still relegated to punks and outlaws in empty pools and makeshift ramps, there were only a few people who had ever heard of skateboarding, let alone did it for a living. While today it’s commonplace to see individuals identifying themselves as professionals, the age of Mark “Gator” Rogowski in the early-to-mid 1980s was much different.

The first round of celebrities in those early skateboarding years weren’t manufactured as they are today, by corporations hoping to have a hit with the kids; rather these individuals became popular through underground videos. Shot on cheap video or 8mm stock, these videos would gather crowds of youth to skateboard shops and make instant celebrities of the featured riders for their incredible tricks and maneuvers. More cheap and simple videos would pop up on the market, and they would feature familiar faces and amazing riding techniques. Companies that were just beginning to come into the skateboard market, or who were watching the industry balloon into a marketable cash cow full of ripe, impressionable minds and excellent, already-installed stars, saw enormous potential in clothing, shoes, drinks, and many other ancillary products. It was these companies that propelled men like Tony Hawk, “Gator” Rogowski, and a few others to stardom, to become the first ever professional skateboarders.

Some of the newly-formed celebrities were fine with their newfound fame and fortune, while others changed radically. While “Stoked” bills itself as the story of “The Rise and Fall of Gator,” it’s more focused on presenting a microcosmic representation of the growth of the modern skateboarding industry, the growth of stars and the way we view skateboarding as an accepted mainstream today from its backyard roots. While “Gator” is used as a case study, and his story is truly incredible, he isn’t the focus of the first half of the documentary. “Stoked” spends the first half of the movie addressing the growth of the industry, and picks up Gator’s story well after he has become a star. His friends and colleagues are able to address his time as a professional, but they don’t shed much light on Rogowski before he broke onto the scene, like how he came to skating and what his family life was like. In fact, the closest thing “Stoked” presents to Rogowski’s family is his former fiancée who moved in with Rogowski when she was just 17 years old.

This quibble aside, “Stoked” presents an incredible picture of the price of fame for one who is not equipped to handle it. Mark “Gator” Rogowski (later known as Mark Anthony after his deadbeat father) is tracked, in archival skating videos, and contemporary and retrospective interviews, through an incredible meteoric rise and rapid fall. Rogowski himself even comments briefly on his sordid history from a California prison, serving 31 years to life for the brutal rape and murder of a young woman. “Stoked” tracks Rogowski’s entire life, spending time on the good as well as the bad, presenting, from that perspective, an even-handed examination of his existence.

The problem with the documentary lies not with the material, but with its pacing. Spending a large amount of time setting up the history of the sport and giving it a historical context is a wonderful idea, and is well executed, the documentarians seem to use Rogowski as a case study rather than an incredible story in his own right. As a documentary of the skating world and its growth through the late 70s into the early 80s, “Stoked” is very interesting and accessible. As the story of Mark Rogowski, “Stoked” misses some key points and skims over other critical pieces as if they weren’t crucial to the big picture of who Rogowski was, and is.

On par, I can recommend “Stoked” for its historical perspective of the skateboarding industry, and for the subtext dealing with fame and all its implications. The comparison, though not directly made, between uber-success Tony Hawk and the trials of Gator Rogowski are shown, and how a person can deal with that fame and success. At points, the documentary says, successful skaters were pulling down thousands of dollars every month by doing nothing but applying their name to a skateboard and taking pictures for magazine endorsements. The fame lasted just a few short years until the next crop of skaters came up on the scene and the nature of the business changed from vert to street, and those who couldn’t adapt disappeared, and the ride they had enjoyed disappeared. It’s a fascinating story, even though it feels a smidge incomplete, and one well worth investigating for any fan of skateboarding but moreover anyone who wants to see the true price of being an overnight idol.

Video:
A mixture of skate board videos from the period, archival news and stock footage, and contemporary interviews make up the majority of the video in “Stoked,” and it looks about like you would expect. Rough in segments, the video is presented in a 4:3 fullscreen aspect ratio, and varies in quality from bit to bit. The presentation on a whole gets high marks because even the old footage looks clean, yet preserves the tone and feel of the period.

Audio:
Presented in two Dolby Digital flavors, the audio options for “Stoked” are less than spectacular. The 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround sound are both passable but both leave a lot to be desired. Ultimately, for material like a documentary, you just have to ask if the audio is clear, and I can honestly say that it is. The music, excellent period selections that help set the tone of the movie like Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys, are flat and most unimpressive. But the bottom line is that it is there to set the tone and period, not to accentuate the skating like in a true skating video.

Spanish and English captions are available for those that want them, as well.

Extras:
The extras are plentiful on this Palm Pictures DVD release of “Stoked.” First up is a interview segment done at the height of Gator’s popularity with he and girlfriend Britney. Gator and Britney look at what their life is like, and it gives an inherently better picture of who Gator was, and some of the circumstances that lead up to his present condition. A neat segment of two young kids reflecting back on a full life lived, and it’s very revealing.

Another, more candid interview is conducted in an empty arena while skaters are whizzing by on a ramp in Chicago. Gator is confident and cocky talking about his life as a skater, his experiences and his peers. The interview is less focused on Gator’s life than on his craft, and is a nice compliment to the aforementioned segment in Rogowki’s life.

An extended scene, set in June of 1986 in Florida’s Mt. Trashmore changes the tone of the piece, giving more excuse to Gator’s actions and explaining the situation better than the segment included in the film. Gator himself also explains his actions and builds on the image of Gator. Both are serviceable, and the pacing of the theatrical edition is a better bit but I like the added information of this cut.

Other bits of cut footage includes a woman in high heels attempting to skate, Gator giving demonstrations on a ramp on how to do various vert tricks, running his mouth the whole way, and the bigger story behind the move to Fallbrook and what life was like living out there (especially in the Christmas time). Skaters tooling around an emptied pool gives a bigger picture of who Gator was first hand, and more footage and outtakes from skate videos. All this will be an excellent bonus to those who enjoy classic vert skating and the classic stars like Gator Rogowski and want to see the troubles he had converting to a street style.

More related to “Stoked” itself, and more expressive of the crime committed, is a video presentation of the court documents and confession of Mark Rogowski to the murder that he’s presently setting in prison for. Set to a somber musical score and dramatically presented, this is an excellent extra feature. A short poem, written by Gator to Brandie is briefly shown as well.

An “Ode to Vert” features grainy, old footage set to music that features Gator plying his trade. More behind the scenes skating footage is found on “Old School Skate Jam.”

A 22 minute behind the scenes feature on the movie, called “Stoked: Uncovered” plays like a short version of the movie but acts more like an extended trailer for the short movie. There’s a lot better, or more condensed, information on who Gator was included on this special and it focuses on the decline, which is the most interesting (I thought) part of the story. A lot of the participants of the documentary also reflect back on the documentary itself and its impacts and creation. Documentarian Helen Stickler talks about the choices she made, why an outsider would want to tell Rogowski’s story, and what she encountered. The featurette is an excellent inclusion to this DVD set.

A photo gallery of Rogowski’s various “Vision” advertisements are also included, to show you who this man was, from a celebrity perspective.

Palm Pictures includes some trailers for their excellent music video collections, like Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” director Michael Gondry. A trippy trailer for “Morven Callar,” an artsy flick that’s going to be available soon is included as well.

Some weblinks are included for those with a DVD-Rom drive, linking you up to a site for the movie and Palm Pictures as well.

Film Value:
Overall, I found the documentary “Stoked” absolutely riveting, from start to finish. The story is fascinating for a person who grew up with skateboarders in his neighborhood (and later in his family), to find out the stories behind the heroes they all worshiped. Though I would have liked more complete information on who Gator was, and what brought him to skating, I found the material presented pretty even handed and honest to what happened, cutting through the garbage of conjecture and rumor. The A/V is perfectly acceptable and not distracting at all, and the extra features only enhance the movie’s impact, exposing more of who Gator really was, and the price his fame and fortune had. A must-have for anyone who is into skateboarding, and a definite must-see for those who enjoy human drama.

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