You’ve probably watched some if not all of Boys of Summer, that strange video that arrived the way skate media does today, with very little warning. It’s been a few weeks, so by now it’s buried somewhere behind the Nike video, the Enjoi raw tapes, the Venue video, and some others. But it’s still there if you want, free of charge to watch or download and even consider, if considering is your thing. It was made by Jeff and Charles. Jeff’s last name is Kutter and he never returned my email. Charles is a French Bulldog.
You can start with the way Boys of Summer feels like a warped, funhouse reflection of, or perhaps antidote to, that blockbuster Mountain Dew film from earlier this year, We Are Blood. Both are arguably too long. Both take several years of footage and arrange it by a logic independent of sponsors and profile, resulting in films that owe their form and effect largely to the aesthetics of the individual who shaped them.
Ty Evans, as you know, is an evangelist, and We are Blood is his most extravagant sales pitch until his next. This time his hero is Paul Rodriquez, he of deep wholesomeness and perfect teeth, a face you’ll recognize from the billboards. Ty’s given him a script to read and a story to tell us. But forget Paul for a second – actually the story is about us. Who? We, that inclusive pronoun. Alright. And who are we? Mainly, Ty says, we are single-minded and best understood in comparison to normal people. They are the non-skaters. They are those who look at a city like Barcelona and see ‘form, function, and progress,’ while ‘all we see is something new to skate.’ This might be reductive and also bullshit, but there’s ninety minutes to this sermon, so strap in. ‘Why do we do it?,’ asks P-Rod one sunny Los Angeles morning. ‘Because we have to – it’s in our blood, it’s in our DNA.’
”Like blood, crowds will clot and clog openings, restricting the flow of meaning through the world.”
This is a fine controlling metaphor, I suppose, and it gives Ty a chance to magnify a single drop of blood to fill your screen. But I can’t imagine I’m the only who hears this and thinks, ‘wait, cough, what the fuck?’ Who thinks, ‘hold on… this DNA and ‘all we see’ language is either incoherent or insulting.’ Is he speaking to us or on our behalf? Either way, Ty Evans remains hellbent on branding skateboarding and delivering it to the masses. Fill the stadiums, chant the slogans, and we’ve got ourselves a rally. And of course nobody alive creates spectacle like Ty Evans. His one-two finale combo arrives, first, with a wholly contrived non-session on a heli-pad towering over the Persian Gulf. Then we rise to our feet and cheer our handsome prince of marketing and promotion as he leads a massive crowd of nameless youth who flow through Los Angeles streets like water.
Or blood, rather. Like blood, crowds will clot and clog openings, restricting the flow of meaning through the world. A crowd, says the great American novelist, is good at exactly one thing: being a crowd. Against crowds we hold fast to an endangered being or idea that we call ‘the individual.’ Unlike a crowd, the individual chooses. And, on occasions when the individual makes a series of choices in a certain sequence, that individual is creating art. Art, so chosen, increases the flow of meaning through the world.
From its opening shot of Kirk Gibson and the voice of Vin Scully, Boys of Summer seems, at first, to be a kind of ode. Gibson limping is the focal point of every sandlot daydream: the pinch hitter, bottom of nine, both legs injured. Boys of Summer is this daydream updated: a massive, rotating cast of heroes and ascendant stars. It is a bulky package, a marathon of shifting images but consistent mood, which is Don Henley’s mood, The Traveling Wilbury’s mood.
But is it a story? Not even remotely. Boys of Summer is a nonlinear object; it is shaped strangely and you sort of don’t want to touch it because it might fall over. Since they’re not busy selling us anything, including the awesomeness of skateboarding or some notional ‘we,’ Jeff and Charles have given us room to have other thoughts. As Brian Evenson might say, they have cleared a space.
Thoughts about what? I suppose, since this is Jenkem, we might as well start with dicks and asses. Early in the film we’re primed by Alex Olson’s naked frame in the shower, playing demure as always. After that comes an unpredictable series of dicks and asses: Harvey Keitel dick begets Dolemite ass, a faceless bicyclist’s dick, French Fred’s ass, and finally GG’s Allen’s dick. Why? Are Jeff and his dog Charles making some kind of joke? Is it a joke about them or about us? Is he reminding us how much time we spend watching and studying the male form?
”Is it a joke about them or about us? Is he reminding us how much time we spend watching and studying the male form?”
We’re used to old movie clips in skate videos, and In Boys of Summer we might identify some themes running through them. Here we see men fucking, fuming, killing, vamping, crashing cars and shooting guns. Women are less prevalent and way less interesting – one woman eats dog shit and most of the rest are sexualized, victimized, or lying dead while a man sits bedside and berates her corpse. Is this misogynist? Or is it a statement about casual misogyny? And yo… what about those dicks and asses?
Mostly it depends how you choose to interpret them. The living women we see, the few friends and girlfriends who make it into Jeff and Charles’ project, are there only long enough to light a fart or pee standing up (though it’s a pretty long pee). Maybe none of this makes you think about gender as a concept and reality. Maybe Jeff and/or Charles had no intention of making you think about gender, or maybe they weren’t even thinking about gender themselves. But they did clear a space.
Flashes of old skate footage pop up to create a strange echo of some clip and we recall Don Henley singing Don’t look back/ you can never look back. We remember some friend or messageboard poster or Slavoj Žižek arguing how nostalgia is a disease or injury, like a limp. But who’s to say we can’t revisit memories and pick from inside of their sticky goop certain solids you might have missed the first or second time through? Who’s to say when a series of events have been exhausted of their capacity to help in some way — to soothe, or comfort, or reveal the secret mysteries of cosmic time and human death?
”We are happy to see old men playing a game of boyhood”
And those old skaters, like Gonz and Carroll and Dill and co? How does their footage possibly stand alongside, say, Nakel’s eruptive and glorious pop-shuv over the rail? Well, not every hero needs a monologue. Some among us appreciate the essential fact of age, the great and basic weirdness of continuing to be. And doing it differently as time goes by. We are happy to see old men playing a game of boyhood, same as those farting women. Much of the footage feels old, too. Dylan’s picnic ender is perfection, a testament to something, surely: past or future or illness or recovery, something that tests simple language.
But what’s most obvious here, and what could easily go unmentioned is that nobody in Boys of Summer is pretending to play. Not once does it feel like a session has been arranged to please the camera. The session exists, they’re skateboarding here or there and someone nearby happens to pull out a tiny powerful phone. Sometimes the result feels like a married-man’s Cherry. Sometimes it feels like the happiest eulogy ever written.
”Nobody in Boys of Summer is pretending to play. Not once does it feel like a session has been arranged to please the camera.”
The San Francisco essayist Rebecca Solnit has argued about the ‘tyranny of the quantifiable.’ There in a city whose streets have been overrun by a crowd of powerful financial interests, she reminds us that we require language, among other reasons, ‘to describe more complex, subtle, and fluid phenomena.’ Beyond the slogans, beyond the pat, familiar narratives of personal ascent and technological salvation. ‘It is difficult,’ says Solnit, ‘sometimes even impossible, to value what cannot be named or described.’ It is the artist’s task to account for this strangeness. To name it and describe it and revolt ‘against the status quo of capitalism and consumption.’
I am saying that whatever skateboarding is or might become will depend on the way we speak of it. Of course it is first about skateboarding being done, and skateboarding being consumed and marveled over and celebrated over drinks. But over these drinks we’ll toast skateboarding. We’ll speak of it, and not necessarily in that neat, marketable line of a story. We’ll leave stories to the brands while we draw a more interesting shape, like a collage. Or a fugue. Or a vatic, a prophecy, or some form of the ecstatic. None of these move units the way a story moves units, but they do move. They remind us of that appreciation we all share for emptiness, for the odd non-spaces where our strange form of play occurs in the wild.
”I am saying that whatever skateboarding is or might become will depend on the way we speak of it.”
Here is another way to speak of what makes us into a ‘we.’ The sound of the cracks we hear beneath our wheels and recognize from three blocks down the street. It’s not the sound but the spaces that make it. These are the slivers, the tiny chasms that, if we choose, we can wrench open, sink into, and even pry open for someone else to follow.