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A Film About Skateboarding: All This Mayhem

A Film About Skateboarding: All This Mayhem

15.09.14  /  Words: David W Mault

The Australian white working class has always been defined by it’s oppositional nature, whether that be to authority or it’s perceived betters. This trait is recognised and identified with by original thinkers and rebels worldwide. In Australia this tendency is called Larrikinism.

The phrase was first used to described members of the Rocks Push, a criminal gang in Sydney during the late 19th and early 20th century, but Australia has been defined by Larrikinism as a reaction to corrupt authority during its days as a penal colony and as a rabid normal reaction to English ruling class ideas of propriety.

Historian Melissa Bellanta in her book Larrikins: A History points out how being a Larrikin has positive connotations and is the key to unlocking the Australian identity: a bloke who refuses to stand on ceremony and is a bit of a scallywag (think Shane Warne or Toadie from Neighbours). Today this ever present image of Larrikinism influence resides in Australia’s art, sport, youth culture and in their traditions of free, rule breaking experimentalism. Which could be the defining ethos of Eddie Martins’ heroic tall tale: All This Mayhem.

The early years of skateboarding have been fortunate to coincide with the birth of the digital age, what with it’s practitioners documenting themselves and their comrades from the off. Because of this we have access to an archive of a culture developing from an indigenous grassroots to where we are now: the underground and it’s denizens being usurped for the unthreatening safety of the commercial commodification of a culture that formerly bathed in Larrikinism.

The titular prism that All This Mayhem revolves around are Australian Greek brothers Tas and Ben Pappas. Self declared ‘Bogans’ (an Australian term for the poor white working class) from a suburb of Melbourne that learned to skate in the now mythical skatepark of Prahran- where by some quirk of fate the filmmaker Eddie Martin also hung out- the film is anchored by the charismatic force of nature Tas Pappas, elder brother of the two. Via an amazing archive and contemporary interviews, we follow the duo as they progress from neophyte wannabe vert skaters to number one and two in the world in a matter of a decade.

ATM has been labelled Shakespearean in its rise and fall of a pair of Larrikins who were crushed by the combined forces of the newly rich skate corporations and their TV paymasters, but their story is more Greek in it’s richness and transcendental narratives.

Australians like the Irish are storytellers with itchy feet... their retrospective countries cannot hold them. The permanently unsettled are liable to always be looking for the next adrenaline pumping experience. So it was only a matter of time before Tas (soon to be followed by Ben) upped and left Melbourne and headed for the skate Mecca of San Diego, where he proceeded to carve a name for himself. The duos dual objective at this point was of being the best vert skaters on the planet and "smashing [Tony] Hawk". That they accomplished both is a testament to their outsider punk spirit, but skating was to change; corporations wanting in, the mavericks were out.

It was a time when skateboard lifestyle was aligned to the debauchery of Rock n Roll. There is an undoubted level of heroism when you judge Tas’ exploits against his nemesis Tony Hawks.

Hawks was the all American Brady Bunch cast off that conspired with ESPN to shut the brothers out after Tas destroyed him to win the World Championship. No one ever idolised efficiency, it’s what Kerouac called the mad ones that are iconised and remembered: “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

Well that was Tas and Ben to a tee. Tas' part on the legendary skating video Let The Horns Blow (1996), predominantly about street activities, was almost solely responsible for reviving the dying art of vert skating. In ATM the eldest sibling and others reveal that Tas' whole bit was produced in one take whilst he was on mushrooms, a fact which becomes more astonishing the more you watch. That is what the establishment was dealing with- combined with them being Australian bogans- they didn’t stand a chance. They also embraced mutual self destruction like so many other ‘mad ones’ have done and will do.

Of course after the rise, we must have the fall. After becoming one and two in the world we slowly acclimatise to drug abuse, death and prison. A subculture destroyed and the brothers locked out of the sport they love.

ATM fascinates with its high energy style of narrative. We're enraptured by the charisma that exudes from the mouth of Tas as he honesty tells his side of this doomed Achillesean tale. Honest to a fault and a constant destroying of myths (his own and his enemies), it's a dual life that makes audiences gasp in shock, anger and emotion at where these Larrikins ended up and how that journey dealt them a hand, mitigated by their youthful arrogant hubris, to allow only one of them a hopeful future.

Ending on a point of hopefulness that is burnt with a Peckinpahesque elegy for times past and their death, a culture of rebellion which is now used to sell computer games and a lifestyle that so many originators are locked away from. Tas, Ben and the many others (documented in such great films as Stacy Peralta's ground breaking documentary Dogtown And Z Boys) are a guiding presence of the spiritual honesty of an art and culture that Tony Hawks and his ilk making millions on ESPN and X Games will never understand.

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