It’s all well and good to castigate the youth of today for self-obsession and a never-ending need to share and tweet every excruciating minutiae of their lives, but remember that this practice is not a modern phenomenon. If you think the selfie is narcissistic, it’s nothing compared to the constant chronicling that went on in the burgeoning skate scene of the 1990s. The availability of the affordable video camera at the end of the 1980s was attendant with the increasing popularity of the vert and street skateboarding scene during the following decade, and allowed amateur skaters to document every failed kickflip, 540 and faceplant for posterity. Such an abundance of archival footage has given All This Mayhem’s director Eddie Martin the raw materials to illustrate a story of rise and tragic fall just as it occurred.
All This Mayhem is the story of brothers Tas and Ben Pappas. Two self-confessed “bogans” (Aussie white trash) who followed their dream of becoming professional skaters from a remote Melbourne of the 1980s all the way to the scene’s source – San Diego. By 1996, the prodigiously talented brothers had achieved first and second place in the world skateboard rankings, but sudden success combined with aggression and immaturity is an unhealthy mix. Tas’ recollections of their hedonistic, Dionysian lifestyle reads like Scarface’s Tony Montana without the firearms. His story follows an all-too-familiar arc of addiction and deterioration which is so cliché that you will want to shake him. Ben’s admiration for his older brother is matched by a competitive streak, and his path is deeply tragic and darker still.
If you’re sitting there thinking “a movie about skateboarding? I’m out.”, then stop right there. The backdrop of the ’90s skate scene is merely the foundation upon which Martin weaves a grim story of rare emotional depth and honesty. The film’s success is due in no small part to the undeniably charismatic Tas. Described by a close friend as “a natural asshole,” the elder Pappas brother still displays flashes of youthful arrogance, but a lifetime of adversity has knocked the edges off his abrasive personality. Older but perhaps not wiser, he is a candid interviewee with an awareness of his character flaws. The enthusiasm of the scene’s glory days for Pappas and other personalities is infectious, and the film’s greatest accomplishment is how it manages to evoke the youthful exuberance that comes with finding a subculture to identify with.
Skateboarding’s golden boy Tony Hawk does not come out of the whole thing well. Neither does ESPN’s X Games series, whose commercialisation of the once-subversive movement effectively killed the scene stone dead. Equal parts comedy and tragedy, All This Mayhem is often dark and honest, but incredibly affecting.