Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
2015 Tribeca Film Festival Line-Up Announced: James Franco’s ‘Adderall Diaries,’ Olivia Wilde In ‘Meadowland’ & More 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Line-Up Announced: James Franco’s ‘Adderall Diaries,’ Olivia Wilde In ‘Meadowland’ & More First Look: Joseph Gordon-Levitt As Edward Snowden In Oliver Stone's 'Snowden' First Look: Joseph Gordon-Levitt As Edward Snowden In Oliver Stone's 'Snowden' Drew Goddard To Write And Direct Sony & Marvel's 'The Spectacular Spider-Man'; 'Sinister Six' Scrapped Drew Goddard To Write And Direct Sony & Marvel's 'The Spectacular Spider-Man'; 'Sinister Six' Scrapped Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Picture Contenders Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2016 Best Picture Contenders Watch: Original Short Film Version Of 'Whiplash' Starring Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons Watch: Original Short Film Version Of 'Whiplash' Starring Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons Watch: Nifty Video Examines David Fincher’s Subtle Repetition Of Framing And Blocking In 'Gone Girl' Watch: Nifty Video Examines David Fincher’s Subtle Repetition Of Framing And Blocking In 'Gone Girl' Sigourney Weaver Says She'll Be Playing A New Character In The 'Avatar' Sequels Sigourney Weaver Says She'll Be Playing A New Character In The 'Avatar' Sequels Margot Robbie Says 'Suicide Squad' Is More 'The Dark Knight' Than 'Avengers'; David Ayer Says Joker Is "Majestic" Margot Robbie Says 'Suicide Squad' Is More 'The Dark Knight' Than 'Avengers'; David Ayer Says Joker Is "Majestic" Kristen Stewart Joins Kelly Reichardt’s Untitled Montana Drama With Michelle Williams & More Kristen Stewart Joins Kelly Reichardt’s Untitled Montana Drama With Michelle Williams & More Watch: Paul Thomas Anderson's Sophomore Short 'Cigarettes & Coffee' Watch: Paul Thomas Anderson's Sophomore Short 'Cigarettes & Coffee' Another Oscar? First Look At Eddie Redmayne In Tom Hooper's 'The Danish Girl' Another Oscar? First Look At Eddie Redmayne In Tom Hooper's 'The Danish Girl' 'Prisoners' & 'Enemy' Director Denis Villeneuve To Helm 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Harrison Ford Confirmed To Return 'Prisoners' & 'Enemy' Director Denis Villeneuve To Helm 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Harrison Ford Confirmed To Return The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far "I F*cked It Up": Neill Blomkamp Says He Wants To Go Back To 'Elysium' And "Do It Correctly" "I F*cked It Up": Neill Blomkamp Says He Wants To Go Back To 'Elysium' And "Do It Correctly" New Looks At Daniel Craig, Dave Bautista, And Lea Seydoux In 'Spectre' New Looks At Daniel Craig, Dave Bautista, And Lea Seydoux In 'Spectre' The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki

Review: 'This Ain't California' An Energetic Trip Into '80s German Skateboarding Culture & History

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist April 11, 2013 at 6:02PM

The title really says it all. Far from Dogtown and Z-boys, the burgeoning west coast punk scene and the empty swimming pools that provided endless possibility, in Germany kids were bolting wheels to pieces of wood and seeing what would happen. And with a wall up separating East from West, a government that spied on its citizens and a chance to see the world a distant prospect, it would seem that a thriving subculture in the German Democratic Republic would be impossible. But, it's just the kind of fertile ground for discontent to manifest itself in bold ways, and "This Ain't California" is a docu-drama that captures it all with energy and style to spare.
0
This Ain't California

The title really says it all. Far from Dogtown and Z-boys, the burgeoning west coast punk scene and the empty swimming pools that provided endless possibility, in Germany kids were bolting wheels to pieces of wood and seeing what would happen. And with a wall up separating East from West, a government that spied on its citizens and a chance to see the world a distant prospect, it would seem that a thriving subculture in the German Democratic Republic would be impossible. But, it's just the kind of fertile ground for discontent to manifest itself in bold ways, and "This Ain't California" is a docu-drama that captures it all with energy and style to spare.

But perhaps the first thing to get out of the way is the question of authenticity. Though presented and positioned as a documentary -- utilizing a blend of real '80s footage of “wheel-board-riders,” with carefully reconstructed "footage" of the era (it truly does look like it was shot thirty years ago), along with interviews, and even animated portions -- "This Ain't California" is mostly fiction. This has made some folks angry, but to get hung up on those details is to miss the point somewhat. What director Marten Persiel is perhaps aiming for is a documentary of feeling rather than historical accuracy. Perhaps the characters are all made up, and maybe none of this really happened, but the truth of that teenage feeling hits it right on the head, and the filmmaking is so accomplished, that any potential notions of being hoodwinked can be forgiven.

This Ain't California

However, it's not like Persiel goes out of his way to hide it. "This Ain't California" purports to bring together the friends of the late Denis "Panik" Panicek, a wild, nearly out of control, rebellious skater, who surprises everyone by years later being killed while on duty in Afghanistan. A shocking end for someone who once never tolerated any kind of authority. So yes, Persiel does use this device as the engine for his movie, but it doesn't take a long time into the viewing of this quasi-doc to realize the director is having a bit of fun. Much of the "vintage" footage is taken from angles that, for less of a better word, are so cinematic and well-framed, it's hard to believe this is the work Denis' best friend, an amateur, teenage filmmaker (not to mention that it has been well-preserved). In fact it's pretty obvious the movie is a bit of put on, and one segment of a GDR news broadcast about the dangers of skateboarding, is so on the nose satirical that it could be a late night skit.

But what the movie does get right are the dynamics of teenage lives when they come together within a subculture that's rebelling against the powers that be. Whether it's skater kids in Berlin, punks in California or whatever group that's on the fringes, forging their own identities, and crafting dreams beyond the nine-to-five, "This Ain't California" evokes that spirit with no shortage of electricity. Within the ragtag group assembled around Panik are his level-headed best friend, an attractive woman who can see his true self and all sorts of hangers on that fill various roles in what is essentially a loose knit family. For anyone who has spent some part of their idle youth in grimy punk clubs, sun-baked skate parks or wherever else, the characters of "This Ain't California" will be more than familiar -- they'll feel like friends.

This Ain't California

Even if Persiel's film is a slight hoax, this has so much energy flowing through it, that it just turns into both a good story, and a document of an undefined time and place that many teenagers finding themselves will experience. The mixed media approach is nearly seamless (though he does lean on one-too-many montages), and again, how he pulls off some of this truly original-looking vintage footage is pretty astounding. And the director know his way around music, with the soundtrack populated by Euro faves of the era like Alphaville and Electric Beat Crew, along with contemporary flavors like Trentemoller.

Ultimately, "This Ain't California" is a movie powered by nostalgia, a propulsive kind of dreamy reflection to a time and place that may not have existed with events that might not have actually happened, but have all the reality of a life that was truly lived. [B+]

This article is related to: Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates