Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Eddie Martin.
Most skateboarding documentaries are pretty dull and of limited interest, mainly aimed at fans of the sport who will get off on the extreme action and stunts. There have been a few exceptions though where they have occasionally had broader appeal – films like Stacy Peralta’s 2001 documentary Dogtown And Z-boys, which looked at the evolution of the skating culture in California in the 70s with the Zephyr skate team, and Lords Of Dogtown, Catherine Hardwicke’s dramatised version of the same story starring Heath Ledger and Emile Hirsch. And last year we saw the compelling and inspirational The Crash Reel about snowboarding champion Kevin Neal and his traumatic, near fatal accident and slow recovery process.
So I didn’t exactly have high hopes for All This Mayhem, a documentary about the Pappas brothers, two Melbourne born skateboard champions about whom I knew nothing. And as the film opened with plenty of amateur video footage of youths doing some gnarly tricks at the Prahran skatepark in the late 80s my expectations sank even lower.
But then the focus soon switched to Tas Pappas, an overly confident youngster from the rougher western suburbs of Melbourne who was performing tricks that few others were attempting. And we also met his younger brother Ben, who was also quite good on the skateboard. Both boys came from a dysfunctional family environment and somehow found comfort within the skateboard culture, where they could work off their frustrations and angst.
Before long Tas headed off to America to try his hand in the more competitive environment, and quickly rose up the world rankings with his adventurous and daring feats. A rivalry developed between Tas and legendary skate champion Tony Hawke who had dominated the sport like no other. Ben soon followed Tas to America, and the two regularly competed in tournaments, pushing each other harder. They eventually reached the top, with both brothers becoming world champions at one point, ranked number one and two in the world.
And then came the spectacular fall as the boys fell into a lifestyle of hard partying and drugs. Ben was arrested while trying to smuggle a small quantity of cocaine back to Australia, and Tas was also jailed for drug offences.
First time feature filmmaker Eddie Martin, who met the Pappas brothers whilst skating at Prahran back in those heady early days, has made this fascinating and revealing warts and all documentary that candidly explores their story in nonjudgmental fashion. Martin has been able to assemble a wealth of archival footage, from amateur video found in garages through to some remarkable television footage to follow the brothers’ story from their humble beginnings to their tragic downfall. The hundreds of hours of footage has largely been shaped by Martin and veteran co-producer James Gay Rees and editor Chris King (who worked on Exit Through The Gift Shop and Senna).
Rather than use formal narration, Martin has Tas Pappas tell his story, and he is remarkably candid in addressing some of the hard and unpalatable aspects about their fall from grace. When he talks about Ben’s death in 2007 his rawness and obvious pain makes for deeply affecting viewing.
Martin’s film unfolds in chronological order, which means that some in the audience who not really into skateboarding may find the early parts of the film a little boring and repetitive as it mainly features lots of skateboarding action. It is only in the second half when it begins to explore the fate of the two brothers that the film sucks you in with its uncompromising honesty. This is a raw and heartbreaking story of tragedy, ambition, hubris and the high price of success and fame.
We have seen a number of other documentaries about fallen sporting champions and their self-destructive behaviour, most recently The Armstrong Lie, which looked at the cycling champion Lance Armstrong and his very public and humiliating fall from grace when he was branded a drug cheat. All This Mayhem is a cautionary tale for sure, but it is also an unflinching and very human story of brotherhood, family and the mistakes we make. It is also very critical of the corporate culture that has permeated the world of skateboarding, and looks at the dark side of the professional skateboarding culture.