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DÉJÀ VU

I’ve posted about this documentary here before, but during a colossal tidy up and clear out, I found my rough cut copy of ‘Sneaker Heads’ on DVD and watched it for the first time since I last wrote about it (around 3 years ago). It held up well. Only a handful of folk (and If you’re one of them, I owe you) read this blog back then, so there might be a spot of déjà vu here, but the screen grabs I posted were finger nail size. You can see the 3-minute teaser right here too. That repetition is appropriate though, because the attitudes espoused in this film are echoed in 2012. Self-hating hype folk should watch ‘Sneaker Heads’ and just appreciate what we’ve got — alas, my work loaned MacBook won’t allow me the luxury of burns or rips, so I’m strictly jpegs at the moment. What happened to the eBayers selling bootlegs of this film anyway? There used to be plenty around. At the moment there’s plenty of murmuring about new generations ruining everything with their queuing and their hoarding and their hype and their pesky fixation with limited edition, but guess what? People were doing that just under a decade ago too. People moaned about it back then too.

‘Sneaker Heads’ was a Wieden+Kennedy and Brand Jordan production directed by Israel, with production by some music industry and ESPN affiliated folks, but it never seemed to be fully completed. The copy I’ve got and the one that was bootlegged has no real credits over the CGI intro of some living Escape AF3s (though you can see the completed title sequence right here), missing statistics and no real ending, but there’s at least some semblance of narrative and some of the footage is gold. Yet ‘Sneakerheads’ got shelved. I like ‘Just For Kicks’ as a primer (salutes for getting the Run-DMC adidas cash demand too) and I thought some of the chats in last year’s ‘Casuals’ documentary (in the case of ‘Just For Kicks’ and ‘Sneaker Heads’ there was some casual and footie talk that got shelved, mainly because it’s all far odder and complex in terms of social interactions and oneupmanship than NYC culture, even though it’s equally as significant in telling the story of sports footwear) were eccentric enough to sit alongside some of the conversations in this film. Other than that, some episodes of ‘It’s the Shoes’ on ESPN aside, most attempts to tell Nike, adidas and New Balance tales on film in more than 10 minutes are intolerable. ‘Sneaker Heads’ feels like a time capsule of the sports footwear cycle just pre-peak and we’re back in the same position right now.

There’s plenty to love. Nerds will enjoy EMZ and Air Rev’s (his suede swoosh Lows are still killer) digging mission for Ellesse while the everybody else is queuing for Jordan IIIs (ring any bells?) and ESPO Air Force IIs in 2003 is refreshing in its traditional approach, the surgeon with the enviable Jordan collection, Chris Hall (who kindly gave me this copy) talking skateboarding and AJIs, cars customised to match Cool Grey Jordan XIs, AF1 disciple Christian Clancy of Interscope (now the manager of Odd Future), my Crooked Tongues mentors getting a blink-and-miss appearance, Euro-dons Edson of Patta and Thomas Giorgetti, Spike Lee, lots of old news clips, Dr J, Jordan smoking a cigar and being cryptic about the AJXX, Alan Mesa’s insane game worn collection plus DJ AM’s genuine enthusiasm and superior in-house displays proving that he was a celebrity collector with a deep, deep knowledge — it’s poignant when he mentions that he’ll never stop hoarding. I guess he never did lose the excitement for shoes during his short life. There’s A-Ron in Supreme, Martin Packer, Bobbito, Retrokid and plenty more folks who all have their own perspective on this wearable compulsion.

But who exactly was ‘Sneaker Heads’ aimed at? The teaser hinted at a theatrical release and one was apparently cited for 2004, but it’s not the greatest advertisement for the brands. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s quite bleak in its indictment of brands attempting to mould an existing culture of collectors. “They got a new pair of Dunks every fuckin’ day” and a dismissal of “Halle Berry artist series bullshit” aren’t the greatest PR, and while those queues are living, breathing testaments to the power of the product, the furious lady offing and blinding because she queued 12 hours for ESPOs is the swearier angrier side of that world. People complain about bad retros and reformed obsessives sell their AF1s because they’re jaded by the state of the industry. There’s a sense that it’s documenting a post-purity period for things, but how sentimental can we be for mass-produced tactically reissued product. Maybe it was Michael Jordan saying “Shit” that got it shelved.

As a piece of research for internal study in the development for future Nike and Jordan product directed at a then-fresh energy market, ‘Sneaker Heads’ may have proven extremely useful. When the current boom subsides and everyone’s back in brogues again for half a decade, and the whole sneaker “thing” erupts again, you’ll be able to watch this in 2021 and see parallels between kids complaining on whatever medium they’re misusing all over again, using the same arguments. It’s the same old story over and over again.

Anyway, here’s some stills, because Mr Clark Kent and Mr Steve Bryden were curious to see whether they made the final cut. I think, with a little polish, ‘Sneaker Heads’ would be relevant today. In fact, if any enterprising editor could splice the best of this film into ‘Just For Kicks’ to extend that running time it would create a classic piece of sub-culture documentation for we weirdos who still keep the faith. After that long-overdue viewing, my passion for shoes was restored — I wish I’d watched it prior to disposing of some dustier pieces of the collection. Then they’d still be gathering dust, but I’d still be kidding myself that I was going to break them out of hibernation one day.

CAB

Some things are necessary. They’re not always things that make much sense either, but Vans Caballeros made into Half Cabs BY Cab were necessary. Ever since I made good with a childhood vow to own every item of sports footwear I ever wanted in one form or another, I’ve grown to appreciate the absurdity of the situation. Hoarding shoes you’re never going to wear, with no inclination towards eBaying them is strange, but I still operate under the self-delusion that I’ll get round to it one day, despite only 40 or so pairs out of 1000+ being habitable for the feet of anybody over 30. There is an age cut-off for certain styles and it’s a damned shame, but it’s a universe closing in on itself as it reissues itself out of relevance with inferior materials and larger numbers. Once upon a time, in the UK, only a select few had the £110 and necessary stature to visit one of the nation’s sole Jordan III stockists in South London and pick up a pair. Now the Jordan III is becoming increasingly played-out and it’s a goddamn shame, because it was — until last year — my favourite shoe of all time. Indie kid sour grapes with fanboy potassium levels at work? Possibly, but a product’s near-holy aura can be dented by the evils of overkill. Remember the Dunk at the turn of the 2000’s? Remember how you didn’t want a pair when the next decade rolled around? Exactly.

For some reason, despite being readily accessible, shifting untold units and getting extensive train station advertising, the Vans Half Cab has maintained a certain hardcore appeal – it’s a product of the late 1980’s (despite the cut-down being made official in 1992), unlike its 1970’s siblings within Vans’ icon program. The others are sleek and minimal, whereas the Half Cab isn’t necessarily the most elegant design — it’s barely even a mid and it looks clunky. The homemade heritage roots are still present in production models, whether they’re inline, bulkier versions without the insole, or the sleeker, more comfortable Syndicate editions. The visvim Logan Mid and Nike SB Omar Salazar were obvious tributes, made because Hiroki and Omar are Cab fans. The man behind the shoe was a childhood hero of mine too — say what you will about Hawk’s height and and style, but Caballero had it going on. Everybody respected Cab. Even the guy’s name fired my imagination. Remember him on the November 1987 ‘Thrasher’ in the PUMA Prowlers (you can see more images of that very shoe right here)? He never seemed to wear Vans for a substantial chunk of the 1980’s, though the footage of Cab in his early teens in the ‘Skateboard Madness’ documentary shows him wearing a pair — incidentally, ‘Skateboard Madness’ in its entirety with the Phil Hartman commentary and ‘Heavy Metal’ style animated bookends, from the claymation intro to the cartoon conclusion, laden with weed and Quaalude references is actually superb.

When vert’s death rattle commenced as the decade came to an end, Caballero and McGill’s ‘Ban THIS!’ contribution felt like a dignified last gasp, and Cab sports the hi-top Caballero shoe sliced down for this custom variation there. That Steve has a spine condition should have made his success a matter of triumph over adversity, but when you skated as smooth as him, it just wasn’t an issue. That switch to street led to suicides, bankruptcy and dinosaur status, clipping the wings of those who’d been throwing stickers to baying crowds at demos year or so earlier. Gator’s “I SUCK!” cry during footage of his street skate attempts in ‘Stoked’ are just depressing. That street skating’s next generation embraced the Cab once it was made lower, assisted the Caballero legacy, but his willingness to embrace street and do an okay job of it (he mastered flip tricks nicely for ‘Scenic Drive’ ) was beneficial too. Those Powell ads that targeted indie brands meant they were doomed to suffer in the 1990’s at the hands of World Industries and their various spinoffs. It’s a shame that more didn’t keep the faith with vert, and I’ve never known whether Caballero suffered during skating’s darker days (he certainly never lapsed into any Hosoi-style misdemeanors) — he’s loyal to his sponsors and he’s got music as a side project, plus, as footage around the latest Vans release testifies, he’s still an extraordinarily fluid skater, despite the advancing years.

Everything’s cyclical though. The impending Bones Brigade documentary might tell that tale of vert’s ascent and descent, but it could also attract attention like ‘Dogtown & Z-Boys.’ That in turn could unleash a ton of documentaries on other crews of that era too. Will it fire imaginations like Jay Adams’ rockstar appearance and swift burnout did? Maybe not, but Caballero’s appearance will be substantial. Sneakers took 24 months out the spotlight in favour of a pair of Tricker’s. Sneakers started trying to look like shoes. Then Tricker’s had a Chas and Turner ‘Performance’ style metamorphosis into sneaker-style collaborative hype via their custom program and copyist retailers and brands — now people are back into sneakers again. Shoes…sub-cultures…everything has its moment in the spotlight.

I still have problems buying an object of clothing in the knowledge that I won’t ever wear it. Our notions of limited editions are skewed. When I was younger, I was fixated with comic books, until I worked with them in the back room of a comic book store at the height of Valiant/Image crossovers, hologram covers and monetary markups for metallic covers. Everybody was collecting and “limited editions” of 20,000 weren’t uncommon. Thankfully, DC’s Vertigo line dropped to deliver some hype-free content, but the whole thing imploded, and a million kids were left with worthless polybags of crap, alphabetically sorted for investment purposes. That made me wary of wilful hoarding, and it was paralleled in the sports footwear realm a few years back too.

When I heard about Steve Caballero trimming down 20 pairs of Cabs for Supreme, gaffer taping them and signing the boxes, there was no question of non-ownership. That’s a genuinely limited edition. I don’t wear sneakers with black midsoles, but they feel like a fitting tribute to a shoe that’s as important as the Jordan I to me — maybe more so. No other brand would let their star athlete tinker with a shoe like that, then shift them at retail either. As far as I’m concerned, the cut-down Half Cab is the best Year of the Dragon shoe ever. To some, it’s probably a baffling mess of a project, but seeing as I never got Caballero’s autograph at a Stevenage demo in July ’88 when my dad took me there, it feels like closure too. First Barbee and now this. Intrinsically, they’re worth a ton. The downside? Everybody else’s special projects will look tethered and weedy next to this one. And just in case I do choose to wear these Caballero creations at some point, I made sure I got my size too (thank you Jagger), because buying shoes that aren’t my size is one step too far into the abyss. And you can keep your hype on ice and jaunty coordinated caps.









While we’re talking childhood epiphanies, I also picked up this deceptively stylised poster for Jamaa Fanaka’s brutal, no-budget 1979 prison boxing flick, ‘Penitentiary’ this week. I love ‘Penitentiary,’ Penitentiary II’ and ‘Penitentiary III’ ever since I saw part II by accident when it was put in the wrong rental box. We wanted to watch ‘Jabberwocky’ (we dodged a bullet there – the box betrayed how dull and self-indulgent Gilliam’s film was), but we got fighting midgets and Mr T entering a fight dressed as a genie, carrying a smoking lamp. Our lives were changed right there, and a crusade to watch as many jail and borstal films began with that viewing. The first chapter of the trilogy is daft, but extremely gritty nonetheless. The underrated ‘Short Eyes’ (with the early Luis Guzmán appearance, minus dialogue) and the terrifying documentary ‘Scared Straight‘ are perfect supplements to Fanaka’s vision. Arrow Films’ ArrowDrome colour coded cult film subsidiary are putting out a DVD in the UK next month that contains the original ‘Penitentiary’ with a commentary by Fanaka, plus the significantly odder follow-up. Great films. Walter Hill’s underrated ‘Undisputed’ was steeped in ‘Penitentiary’ spirit, albeit with significantly glossier presentation.