“Have you ever sat on an empty beach, with the sun and the stars and the sea so deep and asked yourself again, ‘Is this for me?’”
This is the opening lyric from “Alone,” by San Diego post-punk band The Cry. The song was first used in H-Street’s influential video from 1989, Hokus Pokus, during a minute-and-a-half montage featuring the team touring the world and skating demos. Such a twee song selection was a subtle change of tone from the average thrash soundtracks of other skateboarding video of the 1980s. But instead of hearing this on a warbly VHS copy of Hokus Pokus in a wood paneled basement in ‘89, it’s blasting in high-fidelity in a cavernous Manhattan theatre, filled with thick, marijuana soaked air commingling with the scent of Jagermeister, as part of the soundtrack of a brand new skateboarding video by Pontus Alv. It’s an interesting homage, but that song is only where the parallels between begin.
What resonated with so many skaters about the first two H-Street videos transcended the actual skateboarding itself, because, at their core, skate videos aren’t actually about the tricks, but rather the tone that they create. This was the model employed earlier by Stacy Peralta for his Powell Peralta “Bones Brigade” videos, which, in between campy skits, documented his team exploring the globe and skateboarding together. Characters were created, the most relatable being that of Lance Mountain, the “everyday skater.” Peralta’s lens captured both the height of progression and the feel of what it was like for an average kid to throw down their board and just push. This duality was key in growing the audience of skateboarding from a vertical/pool/ramp dominated activity, into something that could happen spontaneously, on any stretch of pavement in the world.
Like Peralta, the skating captured by Mike Ternansky for the H-Street videos a couple of years later was also cutting edge and boundary pushing, but the raw presentation communicated accessibility despite the bar of skate ability being set so high. While the videos had parts, they also had rolling montages, demo footage, sessions featuring the team skating together, and even the occasional voice-over. There were clips of young men coming of age at skateboarding camps, jumping off ramps and over ladders, as well as just flowing fluidly down nondescript streets. Ternansky’s work was paramount in setting the table for the street-based innovations in skateboarding, as well as taking the industry down to the studs and back up again, in less than a decade.
The concept of the skate video as more than just a promotional tool is the divider between skating as sport and skating as lifestyle and art. This is the crux of what Swedish born filmmaker and professional skateboarder Pontus Alv has explored through a trilogy of videos, with the most recent installment I like it here inside my mind, don’t wake me this time., which also doubles as the first full-length video for his company Polar. Alv’s film, movie, or whatever term you choose to apply to skate videos, has now premiered in several countries, speaking to the international roster Alv has constructed. I saw it at a recent viewing at the Sunshine Cinema in New York City on the first day of March.
To quote the night’s host and Theories of Atlantis distribution head Josh Stewart, “What Pontus does is more than set tricks to music — what he creates is art.” That coupled with the knowledge of Alv’s past work, positions I like it here inside my mind, don’t wake me this time. to be a heady project. It wasn’t. In fact, Alv’s work was a direct and purposeful homage to both Peralta’s and Ternansky’s visions of skateboarding — youthful, explorative, challenging, expansive, and real. Unraveling in a dreamlike haze, Alv’s work is on the high-art spectrum for skateboarding, but his technique is purposeful and only adds to the narrative he’s constructed — a careful balance of concept and execution, without falling into the trap of being self-serving or superfluous.
The most successful skate videos aren’t designed to sell you their products. Instead, they invite you into another world that may or may not even exist. For those green viewers whose entry point into skateboarding could be I like it here inside my mind, don’t wake me this time., this new world is moody and ethereal, a place where a diverse swath of skateboarding styles and terrain are presented on equal footing, where thoughtfulness creates possibility. A successful work of art should also be compelling enough to make you rethink your environment and everyday life, it should leave a mark that lasts long past the initial viewing.
The devices employed by Alv in composing his latest work communicates these themes, ideas, and tenets of skateboarding that are transcendent of time or place. Yes, he created a piece of art, but it’s also a vivid document of the creative spirit of skateboarding — high-minded, fun, technical, avant, and earnest.
Alv’s work is steeped in homage — to his family, to past skateboarders, to songs from previous soundtracks, to the living, the dead, and even the inanimate, architecture. There’s a confluence of the past with the present and future. At one point there’s a washed out montage of some young boys skating a modern cement park where crumbled facades and appendages from shattered sculptures lay like ruins of a forgotten history. The recurring visual tools of a “happy” and “sad” pair of shoes appearing in the foreground of so many shots, ties back to this idea of duality: Can you be both happy and sad at once, alone and in good company, alive and dead?
It’s hard not to draw some lineage in Alv’s work to that of Sweden’s most influential filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman, whose work explored the existential ideas of mortality, loneliness, and faith. Like Bergman, Alv cuts the seriousness by using humor or taking the viewer out of reality, namely with his Monty Python-esque umbrella animations. One way that Bergman subverted these heavy subjects was through sexuality, and Alv’s compass isn’t much different, as there’s a whisper of sexual tension to all good skateboarding. It’s fetish, it’s addiction, it’s desire, and it’s chasing the rush of experiencing something for the first time.
Whether it’s a boyish Dane Brady introducing you to his dog — perhaps a reference to the face of God — before skating his curb in front of his home, or the hulking technicality of Hjalte Halberg (like a Ronnie Creager on steroids), or the reimagining of the landscape of New York City and its boroughs by Aaron Herrington, Alv is able to create a consistent through-line and commonality that unites this global group of diversely styled skateboarders. It’s a necessary reminder that skateboarding is not owned by any company, person, or governing body, and it’s certainly not bound by law or convention. Through homage, archived footage, and even by employing the same songs of his mentors (including the poignant track by The Cry that opens this review), Alv completes the cycle of his own visual language, that of skateboarding, and perhaps even of his own career. It’s an ever-expanding circle, with creation at the center, much like our own universe.
What you create when skateboarding is your personal mark, which only the individual experiences first hand, no matter what’s captured on pixels or gelatin. The biggest triumph of Alv’s third skateboarding composition is the declaration of freedom it confidently proclaims and hopefully instills in future generations, as much as it affirms it to those who have come before. Calling his work pretentious, is not only dismissive, but an act of pretension, because after all, Alv’s work, along with the brilliant individuals who paint each frame so vividly in I like it here inside my mind, don’t wake me this time is the hazy embodiment of skateboarding incarnate — a big dream we all share.