Film review: ALL THIS MAYHEM, from Built For Speed

There’s a good chance that people who have never set foot on a skateboard will have heard of American champion Tony Hawk.  Few outside the skating world, however, would be aware of Tas and Ben Pappas two Australian skateboard champion brothers who, throughout a tumultuous career, regularly defeated Hawk with Tas becoming world number one in the mid 1990’s.

The flawed but fascinating Australian documentary, All This Mayhem, charts the astonishing and often disturbing rise and fall of the Pappas brothers.  Through interviews and extensive home video footage, the film recounts their tough childhood, vertigo-inducing skateboard antics, dizzying competition success, outrageous rock star lifestyle and eventual horrific descent into drug addiction and criminality. The film provides a remarkable insight into the world of skateboarding at both street and professional levels and a sad story of wasted potential and self-destructiveness.

Tas and Ben are not the most sympathetic characters ever to feature in a documentary. Tough nut kids who gleefully admit to being bogans, they look at times as if they could have come straight from a Chris Lilley parody.  Cutting their teeth (literally) at the Prahran Skate Park as young teens in the early 1990’s, they soon evolved from kids who could barely stand up on a board to astonishingly innovative tricksters. Noticed by a skate merchandise company they were soon competing in and winning the top Australian skateboard competitions.  This provided a stepping stone to the American competitive skateboard circuit where they battled their nemesis Tony Hawk.  Having become a fixture in the drug-fuelled California skate scene, Tas and Ben rapidly found their lives spiralling out of control.

The extent of the Pappas brothers’ drug-taking debauchery, destructive behaviour, criminality and horrendous fall from superstardom is jaw-dropping.  In reaching the pinnacle of the sport they had achieved their dream but they wound up descending into hell.  As Tas chillingly suggests, the criminal life they thought they had escaped in Melbourne still managed to claim them.  Thankfully, apart from questioning a few skate competition outcomes, Tas never blames anyone but himself for his situation.

Apart from its revealing examination of the Pappas brothers’ lives, this film also provides a fascinating document of a Melbourne sub-culture from the 80’s and 90’s, particularly around the inner-city skateboard parks.

Unfortunately, this film is slightly let down by some structural problems.  At first we’re introduced to director Eddie Martin through footage that alternates between 1988 and the present day. The inclusion of these scenes suggests that he will be central to the story. Before we learn anything substantial about him, though, the film switches to the Pappas brothers leaving us wondering why we needed the footage Eddie Martin.

All This Mayhem is not a perfect piece of filmmaking but it is still an impressively tough and confronting look at the dark side of the skating sub-culture and the terrifying hold that drugs can have over people.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Documentary.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Eddie Martin.

Release date: 10th July 2014

Running time: 96 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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