by Peter Scheck
When the crowd arrived at the premiere of the skate video Whatever the Weather, they saw a wide angle shot of a skateboarder, arms outstretched in mid-slide atop a stone plaque outside Coca-Cola Field, fingers pointed askew to balance himself. The photograph introduces two prominent elements of the film: the skateboarder Sal Viglietta and the city of Buffalo, where most of the video was filmed.
The crowd grew quickly as a few hundred people entered Soundlab on a Friday evening in mid-August. The club’s stereo was blasting rap music, and by 8:30pm, a half-hour before showtime, the place was packed with people, mostly teenagers and 20-somethings. A few guys struggled onto each others’ shoulders and tried to crowd ride. Some who were old enough drank beer, while younger kids sat below the screen on the club’s stage. J. P. Gillespie, the owner of Sunday, Buffalo’s Potomac Avenue skate shop, tried to address the crowd without a microphone and his shouts were swallowed. He gave out some of his shop’s signature skateboard decks and shirts and stepped aside to start the film.
Whatever the Weather is the third video by Sunday, Buffalo’s Potomac Avenue skate shop. The company sells its own skateboards and apparel, and has a team of riders that skate together and produce videos. Gillespie is the team’s elder statesman.
As soon as the first skateboarder appeared on the screen, the place exploded in catcalls and whistles. It seems as if everybody knew everybody, or at least everybody knew Buffalo. The audience responded to every trick as if the show was live, and in a certain way it was: No one had seen the footage, save for the riders and filmmakers. As one rider told me, though the filmmakers have been shooting for three years, the film wasn’t finished until the day of the premiere.
The film takes us all over the city, from the concrete plazas in front of downtown banks and television stations, to weedy patches of concrete in the shadows of the grain elevators, to entire skateparks constructed by Sunday in the warehouses of the city’s West Side. Since the spots are local, the audience responded not only to the skill of the trick but to the difficulty of the location. The pedestrians among us stared with our mouths open when Tony Huffnagle leapt a 10-foot gap in a downtown sidewalk, and young people renegotiated what they thought was possible in the confines of their hometown.
Skate videos are usually shot with wide-angle lenses in order to show as much of the terrain as possible. The filmmaker rides alongside the skateboarder, using the board as something of a dolly, holding the camera with a wide, sturdy handle, to get the best angle. From that viewpoint we get to see incredible things: rails 20 or 30 feet long, slid in seconds; enough stairs leapt to make your knees ache.
Whatever the Weather is an eclectic mix of skateboarding and filmmaking, and seems like an extension of the ethos of the shop itself. The shelving and cabinets of the shop were custom-built by Gillespie and the shop’s merchandise is infused with an attractive, jumpy style of pop art. Sunday would be unique in any community, not just in Buffalo, and this is not just a local skate video: It’s an innovative film in its physical skill, aesthetic judgment, and cinematography, and if I were the Buffalo Niagara tourism folks I’d think about partnering with these guys. Every shot boasts a city full of architectural beauty and the spirit of energized youth. The background of the slides and flips is the skyline of HSBC tower; the gray concrete of the grain elevators is behind the snap of every ollie; the Victorian mansions of Richmond with their sidewalks and yellowing leaves are stoic as the camera rolls by. It’s the kind of video you show to your parents to explain why you won’t move down to Williamsburg and meet a nice girl. All that for less than the cost of an aerial montage.
Whatever the Weather follows an upward trend for skate videos, led by giants like Spike Jonze, to break through the mold of what these trick collections can be. While Jonze has tried with varying success to inject plot lines and special effects into his videos, here we experience more subtle characteristics. The soundtracks for skate videos, once dominated by hip-hop and skate punk, now have enough Neil Young to accompany a weekend fishing trip to the Finger Lakes. The segues between riders are filled with grainy, Super 8-style footage of Buffalo, marking a contrast with the crisp, polished gleam of the skaters performing.
Watching a skate video is like watching any other type of movie. In the right circumstances, it can make you unaware of your strengths and weaknesses. You can get the girl. You can invent a billion-dollar website. You can swim with sharks. All skate videos make you want to skate, but Whatever the Weather makes skating in Buffalo look like surfing in Maui. A citywide playground of ledges, rails, and gaps, waiting to be leapt. The filmmakers seem to perpetuate this idea, adding a few minutes of footage onto the end of the film where younger members of the Sunday family are spotlighted.
When I followed the swarming audience out of the 90-degree basement, I emerged to find a mob of teenagers skating like a school of fish on Swan Street. They ollied onto sidewalks in between cars and kickflipped over potholes. Some people watched, though most stood next to the building, seemingly tricked out. And then they rolled on to the next spot.blog comments powered by Disqus
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