A Fragmentary History of Skateboarding Videos – Chapter 7

Chapter 7 – Dancing about architecture

Fragment 42

A Visual Sound. Stereo’s whole video is the direct heir of the Mark Gonzales’ Video Days part we watched in chapter 5. This one was written and directed by Chris Pastras and Jason Lee, who was in Video Days with Gonzales. Even in the company’s name you can see (or hear?) the same sort of irreverent acknowledgement of lineage: Gonzales left Vision to form Blind, Lee left Blind to form Stereo. First you see me, now you don’t, now you hear me.

Fragment 43

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Apparently Martin Mull first said it, but it doesn’t matter. It’s also an exaggeration of sorts. There are ways to write sensibly about music and many people have done it. However, what the quote emphasizes is what one might describe as music’s distance from the realm of reason and words, particularly when compared to other arts. Poems and novels are made of words, paintings and sculptures are many times of something that you recognize and can understand, and when they’re not, they can be described because you can see them. The quote ties in with our different relations to the senses of sight and hearing. What we see is part of our world – “I saw it with my own two eyes!”, “You have to see it to believe it!” – we trust what we see is real. Not so with what we hear. Sounds often generate confusion – “Where did that come from?”, “What was that?” – Music and melodies are often described as “ethereal” or “otherworldly”. This is A Visual Sound.

Fragment 44

The whole video extracts skateboarding from its historical context and presents it as just images, it seeks to amplify the visual experience of watching skateboarding by clearing it of surrounding information or ideas.

Fragment 45

One of the main ways in which it does this is through the soundtrack. Mostly instrumental jazz, one minimalist breakbeat, no lyrics. No music “of its time”, no Primus, no Beastie Boys. Actually, almost no words at all spoken in the video, except for one Chris Pastras line.

Fragment 46

The intros to the skaters’ parts are also telling. They contribute to that feeling of timelessness. Some are shot by the sea or in nature – places not really associated with skateboarding and its urban, fast, right here, right now ethos. Others actually stage a different time by the way the skater is dressed and what he does (Jason Lee with the bike at 24.25) or the places he visits (Ethan Fowler at the cafeteria at 33.30).

Fragment 47

Finally, the black and white filming, or the faded, grainy colours of most colour sequences work to create a stylistic homogeneity that can’t be found in the real world. The skating becomes ethereal, otherworldly, like a visual sound.

Fragment 48

The “dancing about architecture” bit in the famous dictum is supposed to suggest meaninglessness. Dancing can’t be “about” anything because it is not the sort of rational, explanatory activity that writing or talking can be. It’s not supposed to say anything about architecture. Skating shouldn’t be too different, but it is slightly. People use architecture everyday without noticing it. We don’t usually notice its patterns or textures. Even if we walk down a flight of irregular stairs, we may feel something is off, but we don’t stop to think about it. With skating, architectural textures, shapes and patterns matter. They’re made obvious, brought to our attention, through the skating. No one would notice the kind of off-kilter angle at which the two planters at 27.33 stand to each other if Jason Lee hadn’t decided to tail stall them. If to understand is to perceive patterns, then maybe skating is the meaningful version of dancing about architecture.

By Sebastião Belfort Cerqueira

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