Talking Movies

May 20, 2014

Hill Street

New Irish documentary Hill Street is a fascinating look at the early years of the Irish skateboarding scene trying to legitimise itself as a sport in economically grim 1980s Ireland.

Hill Street 4

Director JJ Rolfe interweaves the evolution of skateboarding culture in Dublin since the 1980s with a parallel strand of talking heads from America explaining the sequential 1950s craze for DIY skateboarding, the use by surfers of drained swimming pools to get airborne, and Tony Hawk’s rise to fame. The initial driving force here was a BMX shop ‘Clive’s of Hill Street’ in the North inner city. Soon Clive Rowen’s BMX business was subsumed by skateboards, home-made ramps outside the shop, a practise room beside the shop, and eventually a temporary skate park in the Top Hat Ballroom in Dún Laoghaire. Eventually the Powell Peralta ‘Bones Brigade’ Team, including the legendary Tony Hawk, visited that skate park for a historic show. This tale is told thru interviews with all the original skaters, along with unseen footage of them in the 1980s.

Hill Street is a very enjoyable movie. Rolfe makes great use of the essentially cinematic nature of skateboarding from the opening sequence (tracking alongside a skateboarder tricking his way across the city and its bridges) onwards. The skateboarder’s view as he sails past people waiting to cross a street is rendered akin to the view of a tracking camera, and later we see how some of the 1980s footage was actually shot by people holding cameras on skateboards racing alongside other skateboards as they did tricks. Rolfe also presents sustained sequences of skateboards in action over ramps accompanied with a superb original score that renders everything dreamily hypnotic and conveys the artistry that Tony Hawk claims for the sport. Rolfe’s interviewees are all passionate and articulate, and footage from the 1980s and 1990s is a great time capsule of nostalgia.

There is one potentially interesting strand that is introduced but never really developed. Hill Street is so focused on celebrating the stubbornness and nonconformity of the skateboarders; these individuals who refused to play soccer or Gaelic like the vast majority of their peers; that it never addresses the hilarious paradox of them not being team players but defiantly being individuals – who then all needed a place to hang out together (being individuals en masse), which they found at Clive’s. Hill Street also never truly grapples with the realities of why security guards; at banks, offices, and colleges; would always chase away these loveable ragamuffin teenagers. The montage of spectacularly painful crashes over the credits suggests one line about ‘kids suing for injuries’ urgently needed to be a serious discussion, rather than being treated as a blooper reel of bone-crunching disasters…

Hill Street is a very well made and enjoyable documentary, especially if your only experience with skateboarders was their intimidation of UCD at weekends.


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