Monday, May 14, 2012


Exhibiting far more polish and nuance than its subject probably deserves, Dragonslayer is a drop-dead gorgeous film about one hell of a fuck-up.  The further one gets into the documentary, the more one wants to grab professional skater Josh "Skreech" Sandoval by the shoulders and shake him out of his chronic stupor.

Watching how he becomes "basically homeless," losing his sponsorships while continuing to choose drugs and alcohol over healthy food and behaving boorishly towards his much younger girlfriend, is maddening enough.  But, then, there's the issue of the considerable distance his actions are already putting between him and his 6 month old son.  Sandoval openly admits that he's going to do what he wants to do and hopes that his son won't hate him later for it.  Yeah, good luck with that approach, buddy.

But, even with as unlikeable a character as Sandoval at its center, Dragonslayer is a compulsively watchable 70+ minutes.  A lot of that credit goes to the clever editing scheme at play; the film is divided into a countdown of numbered sequences, each named for one of the ridiculous, half-tossed off sound bites ("Swedish Metal," "Sex Cream," etc.) that Skreech drops on the filmmakers while they follow him about on his waste-oid odyssey.  Each of these beautifully constructed sections could play as a standalone vignette, but stitched together, they form a nimble structure that keeps the film dancing forward, never allowing it to get bogged down in one spot for too long.

Another great thing about the way this film is cut is its emphasis on direct experience (or at least the illusion of direct experience) vs. exposition by its subject.  More times than not, we're allowed to just watch "Skreech" behave, rather than have to listen to him explain his reasons for his behavior.  It's a choice that pulls the viewer in and truly elevates the material, completely sidestepping what might otherwise be reduced to cheap and hideous exploitation; a film about a living, breathing car wreck of a fellow.

Director Tristan Patterson makes an attempt to align the rudderless lifestyle practiced by Sandoval and his friends to the current economic recession.  The film shows "Skreech" and his friends breaking into the backyards of repossessed properties to skate in empty pools.  The comparison falls apart, though, as the focus too often shifts away from the larger context being auditioned in these moments.  Fortunately, the attempt to substantiate such a parallel isn't vital to the film's success; it soars with or without a unified thematic device at play.  This is a really excellent film, just don't expect to love the guy at the center of it all.

Dragonslayer will be released on dvd by First Run Features on Tuesday, May 15th.  More info about the release available here.

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