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STOKED: THE RISE AND FALL OF GATOR(director/writer: Helen Stickler; cinematographers: Peter Sutherland/Helen Stickler/Dag Yngvesson; editor: Ana Esterov; music: David Reid; cast: Mark “Gator” Rogowski, Tony Hawk, Julie Brown, Stacy Peralta,Brandi McClain, Jason Jessee, Steve Caballero, John Brinton Hogan; Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Helen Stickler; Trimark Home Video; 2001)
“Despite doing a fine job telling this trajectory skateboarder bio, Stickler’s tale lacked an edge and the power to make this story stick in the ribs.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Helen Stickler’s finely crafted documentary, six years in the making, chronicles mid-1980s legendary skateboarder Mark “Gator” Rogowski on his success and tries to find answers about his sudden downfall in the late 1980s. It’s a sad story about a disposable hero in the pop culture scene whose tale rises above being merely a sports yarn, yet no matter how absorbing can never get away from how unappealing he is as a subject. We are made aware of Gator’s climb out of a dysfunctional family situation in southern California and reaching fame and riches as a teenager through his skills as a skateboarder on the vertical ramp (soaring through the air and bouncing off large ramps), which got him a coveted endorsement contract with a big business company called Vision Skateboards (where he made a healthy percentage off the sales of boards, videos, and Vision Streetwear). Gator then quickly falls from grace and, after changing his name to Mark Antony and his conversion to evangelical Christianity as a young man of 24, he ends up with a 31 years to life sentence for the 1991 brutal rape and revenge murder of his former girlfriend’s friend. During the pinnacle of his career the brash Vision spokesman was earning something like $20,000 a month and living with 17-year-old petite blonde, skating groupie, Brandi McClain in a half a million dollar house, in the boonies of Fallbrook, California.

The ego-tripping Gator went into skateboarding for the fun of it and through his determination and ability to cultivate the right image he was fortunate to make the most of his opportunities, which meant plenty of party girls, money, and freedom of lifestyle. The skateboarder is viewed as a combination athlete and rock star, whereby image counts as much as skill. Gator knew how to play this game for all its worth for his few years of fame until his style of skateboarding lost favor to the urban styled street skating (hitting the curbs) and he couldn’t make the adjustment. Through interviews with his main squeeze Brandi McClain and his fellow pro skateboarders such as Tony Hawk and Stacy Peralta (director of the similar themed “Dogtown and Z-Boys”), we can determine what pushed the ‘angry young man’ to go from one extreme to the other. Stickler seems to lay a lot of the blame on the corporate mentality that can twist the minds of mixed up youngsters and make them be untrue to themselves, yet she stops short of laying the blame on them.

Since I have no particular interest in skateboarding, I was not thrilled by the excellent archival footage of these kids doing some absolutely beautiful moves on skates. I was also not particularly interested in their identity crisis or materialistic dreams or how the corporate world co-opted their pure thing. But if you were interested, the film was even-handed in its approach to Gator and didn’t try to apologize for the “bad boy” and how he brought out a dark side to the subculture phenomenon he was closely identified with. My problem wasn’t over the film’s point of view, but that I never found Gator interesting enough to care about and felt just as distanced by his tragedy as if I was reading a murder story in the daily newspaper about a stranger. I came to the conclusion that the wise guy kid had some psychological issues that were never resolved, which I realize is not that deep of a response. But it is difficult to come up with a different conclusion without reading more into the film than was there. Despite doing a fine job telling this trajectory skateboarder bio, Stickler’s tale lacked an edge and the power to make this story stick in the ribs. In the conclusion, all of Gator’s former friends offer no sympathy for him. That tells you all you want to know about this self-promoting jerk, who went over-the-edge in the mother of all free falls.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”