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Australia 2013
Directed by
Eddie Martin
96 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
4 stars

All This Mayhem

Synopsis: The story of the meteoric rise and tragic fall of Tas and Ben Pappas, two Melbourne brothers who took the international skateboarding world by storm during the nineties. In record time they moved to America and won the World Champion crown from their boyhood idol. But success and celebrity and an excess of drugs and money proved too much to handle at such a young age and in no time they were both on a path towards self destruction.

“There’s three sides to every story. My side. Your side. And the truth.” So says older brother, Tas Pappas at the outset of this compelling documentary that takes us on a journey from the local skate park in inner city Prahran where two boys from the western suburb of St Albans first show their exceptional skills ‘in the bowl’, to the mega-events of the world-wide championships where they rapidly become skateboarding rockstars. It’s not an unfamiliar tale. ‘Discovered’ at an early age by a guy who rolls up in a Porsche and offers them a lucrative sponsorship deal, we follow Tas to America where he starts to make a name for himself as he pursues the title held by World Champ, Tony Hawk. Before long, little brother Ben joins him and the two are unstoppable. They’re a sensation. But as they overtake their one-time idol, the rivalry between the Pappas boys and Hawk turns nasty and the story takes a turn down some darker alleyways.

All This Mayhem is pretty straight forward as documentaries go. It’s a bit like an extended version of the ABCTV series Australian Story with a combination of straight-down-the-barrel talking heads, archive footage, news grabs and some occasional additional imagery to support a few voice-overs. We even get a bit of Hey Hey It’s Saturday thrown in. What sets it apart, however, is the almost perfect tragedy of its story and the engaging way in which it’s told, primarily by present-day Tas and corroborated by a number of key friends and figures who were there as it all happened. The real bonus for this film, though, is that skateboarding seems to be a sport that is videotaped within an inch of its life. Almost everything has been captured on tape, which not only provides us with images of them defying the laws of gravity in and above the skate bowl, but also allows us to watch the boys grow up before our eyes and to see the creeping physical toll on their bodies as drugs and the high life take hold. It’s both fascinating and frightening.

There’s a point in the film where Tas sums up the relationship between he and his brother as being like that between the crash-through-or-crash Barnes and the more reflective Elias in the Oliver Stone film, Platoon. It’s when they ‘Barnes’d it’ (as they would say to each other) that they really started to achieve their goals.

In addition to the inevitable driving rock music that comes with the festival atmosphere of the championship events and the drug-and-alcohol-fuelled after parties, the film is underscored by yet another evocative soundtrack by Jed Kurzel, following up equally beautiful compositions for Snowtown and The Babadook. He is fast becoming my favourite Australian composer.

What’s missing from this film, though, is the fulfilment of the promise made in its opening. We get lots of ‘my side’ but not much of ‘your side’. We never really get to hear about the championship rivalry from Tony Hawk’s perspective, none of the other talking heads really offer opposing points of view from the story as it’s laid out by Tas and, for reasons that become clear as the film unfolds, we only get limited access to Ben’s side of the story. Nevertheless, All This Mayhem is one of those documentaries where an interest in its subject matter is the least of the reasons to buy a ticket.  It’s more than a story about skateboarding; it’s just a great story of triumph, tragedy and, ultimately, redemption.




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