Journal Article

Playgrounds of Unlimited Potential: Adaptation, Documentary, and <i>Dogtown and Z-Boys</i>

David T. Johnson

in Adaptation

Volume 2, issue 1, pages 1-16
Published in print March 2009 | ISSN: 1755-0637
Published online March 2009 | e-ISSN: 1755-0645 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/adaptation/apn022
Playgrounds of Unlimited Potential: Adaptation, Documentary, and Dogtown and Z-Boys

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This article begins with the question, what does it mean to adapt in the realm of documentary? Noting at the outset commentary on this issue from Dudley Andrew and Walter Metz, the essay explores the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, a film about the resurgence of popularity of skateboarding in the United States in the mid-1970s—largely, the film argues, through the “Z-Boys,” a group of kids who, in attempting to imitate their surfing heroes, substituted the curves of asphalt for those of breaking waves. The central archivist of this period was an artist and photographer named Craig Stecyk, whose “Dogtown articles,” in the recently revived Skateboarder magazine, helped celebrate and promote the Z-Boys's style of skateboarding. It is this essay's contention that Dogtown and Z-Boys is an adaptation of Stecyk's writing and, more importantly, his photographs—and that while neither constitute the only source texts, they are nonetheless central to this adaptation. After establishing its focus, the article discusses Stecyk's background and aesthetics and compares his work to Modernist street photography (notably, the Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo). The article then traces some explicit connections to Stecyk within the film—places where he is, in fact, the direct subject—before illustrating some even more important implicit connections between Stecyk's work and the documentary. Finally, after positing that a traditional adaptation studies approach might have to end at this stage (but also suggesting that adaptation studies has an interest in exploring new areas), the essay considers a notoriously difficult concept in cinema studies, excess, and how approaching documentary as an adaptation might inform critical discussions of that concept. The article ends by suggesting, in fact, that documentary studies and adaptation studies, normally discrete areas of cinema studies, might have more to offer one another than has in the past been the case.

Keywords: Documentary; adaptation; excess

Journal Article.  7335 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Film ; Television ; Literature

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