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BAM cinema presents film series ‘Skateboarding is Not a Crime’

Grindhouse films

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Visitors of the museum often find themselves standing outside the building watching art of a very different kind.

A film series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Rose Cinemas is focusing on the culture behind the aerial stunts of skateboarding kids who throw themselves down the steps of museums and other large buildings and public spaces never intended for such dare devils.

Called “Skateboard­ing is Not a Crime,” the screenings chronicle wood pushers in pop culture who, like members of most youth cultures, are often misunderstood and misrepresented, taking viewers throughout thrashing’s half-century history. Here are our favorite flicks:

Go pro or go low

What “Dragonslayer” lacks in narrative tension it drenches in atmosphere. The movie is a beautiful bummer of a documentary without much besides punk attitude driving it. At its center, surrounded by fireworks, graffiti, and overgrowth, is Tommy “Screech” Sandoval, an amateur skateboarder living in the decaying inner ring suburbs of Los Angeles. What this means practically is that each day the scrawny, perpetually dazed 23-year-old wakes up on the floor of a friend’s house, takes a few bong rips and skates in an empty swimming pool. Or maybe he makes it to the semi-finals in a contest only to be taken out by a bad spill.

The skateboard industry is present in the form of free boards, free beer, and contest prizes that come in wadded up 10s, but going pro is as tantalizingly close-yet-distant as Beverly Hills, and Screech does not give a sign of caring. The thing is, Screech is a natural on a skateboard. If he was an artist, society might admire him and make space for his talent to grow. As it is, his life on the edge turns out to be a grind, for Screech as well as his girlfriend and his toddler son.

Sept. 13, 4:30 and 9:30 pm.

Kickflip to the head

“Kids” is a classic of anti-social cinema. Made in 1995, it departs from the trope of sun-kissed Californians in favor of a day in the life of teen boys and girls who director Larry Clark found at skate spots around Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It makes for squeamish viewing. The titular teens roll blunts, have unprotected sex, and immortalize the use of a skateboard as a weapon. Did I mention that one of the boys has HIV and not all of the sex is consensual? Some of the young cast members went on to stardom (Rosario Dawson and Chloe Sevigny) but two have died since the film came out, one of a drug-induced heart attack and the other by his own hand. The kids were not all right.

Sept. 21, 2, 4:30, 7, and 9:30 pm.

Look ma, no hands

And you thought the sound of skateboard wheels was grating now. Today they are made of urethane, but when “Skaterdater” was shot in 1965, they were clay. Vans was a year away from making its first shoe and the act of thrashing still looked like surfing on a wooden plank down hills. The first ever skateboarding movie is silent, backed by instrumental surf rock, and its skaters are “Leave it to Beaver” lookalikes with surprising skate chops. The story is ostensibly a teen love story, but it is really an ode to the kids’ grace on the newfangled, handle-less scooters. The film set the stage for the girlfriend, “It’s skateboarding or me” dynamic that is a trope of the male-dominated sport to this day.

The short film is playing with 1966 satirical documentary “The Devil’s Toy,” which anticipates the moral panic around skateboarding and features incredible formal-wear skate action, and the 1999 skate doc “Fruit of the Vine,” a Super 8 ode to traveling and riding in empty swimming pools.

Sept. 23, 7 pm.

Skateboarding is Not a Crime film series at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Rose Cinemas (Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafeyette Ave. between Ashland Place and Saint Felix Street in Fort Greene, www.bam.org/#Film). Tickets $13, $8 for members.

Reach Nathan Tempey at ntempey@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4504. Follow him at twitter.com/nathantempey.
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