Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
This Ain’t California: Skate or Die & Unify
architecture of East Berlin was a crime against art. Yet, for skateboarders, all that monstrous
concrete was practically a workers’ paradise.
The East German skater subculture gets the full documentary treatment
and then some in Marten Persiel’s This
Ain’t California (trailer
opens this Friday in New York.
were a big deal in the GDR, but a scruffy skateboarder like Denis “Panik” Paraceck
was nobody’s idea of a Katarina Witt. He
was supposed to be an Olympic swimmer, but his rebellious nature and flair for
daredevil stunts drew him to the skater scene.
Although the Stasi constantly spied on Paraceck and his cronies, the
East German sports bureaucracy eventually tried to co-opt the movement when
they discovered the burgeoning sport had its own circuit of international
competitions. It seems Paraceck initially
tried to play ball, but he quickly chafed under their authority. However, there is also a strong likelihood he
never existed in the first place.
TAC is structured as an elegy to
Paraceck, a little digging raised serious questions about the film’s
Evidently, Persiel now uses the term “documentary tale” and speaks of
the broadening meaning for the genre.
This is not an isolated case. After garnering considerable festival attention,
Michal Marczak admitted At the Edge of Russia was kind of, you know, staged.
(Considering I noted how surprising it was Russia granted a Polish
filmmaker access to a remote military base as well as the cinematic look of his
subjects, I would argue my review holds up pretty well in retrospect).
the underground East German skater community is an established fact. It seems safe to assume they were on the
business end of Stasi surveillance and the PR conscious Party probably did try
to recruit them for propaganda purposes.
As for the rest of TAC, you
fact, some of the animated interludes are obviously intended to instill a
fable-like vibe. Had Paraceck really
burned down the GDR’s skater training facilities, it is doubtful he would have
lived to see unification. Rather,
Paraceck functions as a scapegoat-like creation myth of unification. Supposedly locked in a Stasi prison cell when
the wall came down, he missed all the festivities. By the time he was released, Persiel and
their cohorts had already moved on with their unified lives, leaving him
There is definitely a measure of truth to TAC, but it is a fair question to ask
how much. If nothing else, Persiel captures
the milieu of the GDR -era. Paraceck or
those for whom he serves as a composite did not want to become political
activists. Nonetheless, they became de-facto
dissidents simply by careening about atop a small board with wheels. Visually striking, TAC combines talking head reminiscences, stark animated sequences,
and some impressive archival skating footage (that may well have been recreated
by Persiel and a cast of contemporary skaters).
Recommended for those fascinated by the failed Communist experience (but
as what I have no idea), This Ain’t
California opens this Friday (4/12) in New York at the Maysles Institute
Labels: Documentary, East Germany