Converse Cons’ new full-length video begins with a typewriter smashing out inky, staccato letters on a sheet of paper.
My immediate response was that director Ben Chadourne chose this visual device as an homage to A Visual Sound’s (Stereo Skateboards 1994) opening montage. But stepping back and scanning the mostly millennial crowd packed in the Village East Theatre in Manhattan, I realized that starting Purple with a nod to the analog, as well as intentionally calling it a film, immediately establishes the video’s weight, especially to those who have never seen a typewriter before. Initially launched in the ‘90s, then rebooted in the early 2000s, the Cons program has coalesced into a diverse whole. Purple’s job is to create a construct that highlights the eccentricities while unifying the roster. It’s worth mentioning the intentions, to understand the execution.
Born in Bordeaux, France, Chadourne left law school at the behest of his father to pursue an education in cinema, eventually becoming a filmer for Converse Cons. His aesthetic leverages modern technology through a cinephile’s eye, creating a pastiche of modern, classic, film noir, and absurdity, much akin to Converse compatriot Pontus Alv’s work. Central to Chadourne’s vision is that he creates his own voice by cherry picking influences from three decades of skate cinema and using his trained eye to tell a new story.
An outlier in the digital age, few in the theatre other than the Cons team knew what to expect of Purple, other than it being a full-length featuring the entire team. Purple begins with Canadian pro Bobby De Keyzer, one the team’s most technical riders. His skateboarding seems pensive and tactical. Even when he’s navigating a sprawling marble plaza weaving complex three trick ledges, there’s a feeling of horror vacui—a dislike of leaving empty spaces in an artistic composition. Chadourne intentionally floods us with information to highlight the nuances of De Keyzer’s skating, the only visual breaks being long pan outs, where we see his intense concentration.
What’s immediate about Purple, is its identity. It’s an 18-month journey boiled down to 42 minutes and stylized in a way that doesn’t detract from the actual skateboarding, but provides enough character to create a tone. As it unfolds, it becomes apparent through camera angles, soundtrack selections, and editing, that Chadourne is adept at allowing the riders’ skating to dictate the flow, rather than casting them into an inflexible vision. This has been a criticism of Ty Evans’ work, where his overarching idea becomes the construct, with the skateboarders becoming actors playing out roles. Purple is the opposite, as Chadourne’s work syncs seamlessly with all of the skaters involved. Whether he’s documenting Sage Elsesser’s power or Kevin Rodrigues’ architecturally and avant-driven approach, there’s a visual balance of variety and consistency present. Rather than focusing on tricks or who had what length part, it’s the delivery of Purple and its execution that drive the journey.
The name Sean Pablo appears on the screen, in a tiny typewriter font. Chadourne holds focus on an exasperated statue, before cutting to an equally flummoxed Pablo—head leaning on his forearm on a set of stairs and bearing a striking resemblance to the sleeve of Minor Threat’s iconic Filler 7”. Rather than feeling dramatic, it’s playful—after all, a skateboard is a fucking toy, let’s not forget. He traverses the globe doing old tricks in new ways to a rare-ish My Bloody Valentine track from 1988. It’s a perfect snapshot of the collage nature of skateboarding in the year 2018. Both De Keyzer and Pablo are part of the younger contingency of the brand, yet represent different sides of the same coin. Chadourne is tasked with creating consistency, which he does effectively, as both sections emphasize what’s unique to the personalities being captured.
Part of what creates cohesion, is that the single parts are on the shorter side of things and often weave in other riders, with stalwart Kenny Anderson seemingly appearing the most. Chadourne’s orchestration allows Purple to bounce from a very NYC-centric section set to hip-hop with Aaron Herrington, Eli Reed, and Zered Bassett, before pivoting to the blustering Flux of Pink Indians track “Tube Disasters,” featuring Mike Anderson, Raney Beres, Tom Remillard, Ben Raemers, and other transition leaning riders.
Another notable change in beat is a section anchored by GX1000 alum, Brian Delatorre, heavy on Bay Area bombing footage. As tight as the De Keyzer section feels and justifiably so, Delatorre’s is breathy and free—his skating needs to be captured this way. Delatorre and his co-conspirators, including the expressive Al Davis and the GX crew, create a break in Purple, much like a track sequence in an album that sets up the single—another analog hat tip. It’s storytelling without forcing a narrative, especially the tired, ‘We’re friends on tour, in a van, doing a thing, and we’re friends, and we get into hijinx and land tricks, but it’s skateboarding… and did we mention that we’re a team?’
Roughly 15-years ago I saw a shirtless man in sunglasses smoking a cigarette walk into Kim’s Video and Music on St. Marks, just blocks from the Purple premiere. In a store known for its pretension and bookish nature, this man was a firecracker. “Put that out,” yelled the tall man at the bag check. “Sorry bro, I’m from LA,” muttered the man. It was Tommy Lee, the debaucherous drummer of Motley Crüe.
I got the same feeling when I saw Curren Caples and his sunbleached mop in the theatre on 2nd Avenue, but towards the end of Purple it all made sense—he was there to support his Flip teammate and SOTY contender, Louie Lopez. Lopez and his lanky, limber frame add yet another dimension to Purple. There’s something modest to his skateboarding, in that he can realistically do anything, but rarely rolls away with flair or arrogance. It’s a very polite way to ride a skateboard.
Chadourne employs a nice juxtaposition by following Lopez up with another tall, spry, gifted skateboarder who is equally humble. His name is Jake Johnson and what he does on a skateboard is infectious. How Chadourne captures this shows a synchronicity between them, like Brian Eno working with Talking Heads—in the moment, yet of the moment. Johnson is a crowd favorite, so there was no surprise in the reception he received, but by employing slow-motion Chadourne was able to stretch out the anticipation and energy without becoming overly dramatic.
Purple may not be ‘out,’ in fact, as of now it’s only slated to stream online for 72 hours, but it’s now part of skateboarding’s cinematic canon. And, like most skate videos, it’s best enjoyed on a large screen in a public space where you can hear the reactions and commentary. But, no matter how you view Purple—notice there are no spoilers in this review—Converse Cons’ first full-length proves that you can refresh a medium without trying to reinvent it.