Experimental Reviews

Skate Scratch (2023) – 4 stars

Director: Wyatt Cunningham

Cast: Matt Tomasello, Nick Big Murray, Jared McFarland

Running time: 5mins

Skate Scratch – alternatively named The Sound of Skateboards in its own title-card – is a peculiar kind of music video without any music. It follows a trio of US skateboarders, as they tear up a park – their scraping and grinding boards standing in for instruments, before audio engineer Levi Glenney and sound artist Ben Dixon mix them into a single, clanking tune.

I can’t say that it’s something I would listen to recreationally, but the end result is certainly something. Maybe that’s enough.

Indeed, that seems to be the theme of the broader film. Four simultaneous shots of satisfyingly crackly VX1000 and Super 8 footage give us a grainy insight of Matt Tomasello, Nick Big Murray and Jared McFarland, as they use and abuse their boards to extract every last conceivable sound from them. None of the tricks seem especially complicated or remarkable (though that is coming from me, someone who has never managed to stand on a board in motion), and as a result, the shot of adrenaline you might usually expect to hit you in a skating film is conspicuously absent.

It can feel hard to work out exactly what this is, or who it is for in that case. Without knowing anything about the world it depicts, it is hard for a lay audience to relate to what is unfolding here – what any of the people on screen are feeling; what they are being invited to feel; or why they ought to care.

But there is something here.

One of the brief openings for discussion comes from the skaters’ amusingly literal methods for capturing sounds on film. Carving open an ancient BBC-branded cassette tape, they spend the following four minutes dragging its guts around the skatepark, winding them around their wheels, spreading them across a grind rail, and sliding through the blackened threads.

The longer it goes on for, the funnier the idea that these grown men (who presumably were very much alive at the height of cassette use) believe this is how you imprint sound onto the bygone technology. God help the camera, should they also decide to take responsibility for the visual elements of production.

The absurdity of the scenario does suggest there is something more behind Tomasello, Murray and McFarland’s antics, though. Sure, there’s no adrenaline rush from them nailing complicated flips or death-defying jumps, but maybe they’re not trying to impress us. Maybe they don’t have to. Maybe all that matters is that they think this is fun.

Like so many other things under late capitalism, our hobbies have morphed into side hustles, where we endlessly tell ourselves to take them as seriously as possible, or we will never be able to monetise them. Subsequently, we render those hobbies as miserable as the relentless grind of our day jobs. But in that context, determinedly maintaining something you do regularly as just a bit of silly fun can be extraordinarily liberating.  

In the end, both the odd content and strange format of Skate Scratch give us a refreshing reminder that not all projects, pastimes or people in our lives have to fulfil the expectations of external perspectives – or investors – to be worthwhile. That’s the kind of bizarre, anti-cinema that makes me truly love experimental filmmaking. That attitude that not everyone will understand or care about your communication, but saying “screw it, we’ll do it anyway.”

Skate Scratch might mean substantially more to actual skaters (or sound engineers) than I am aware – but from outside that world, it is an unapologetically weird watch. In turn, on the basis of the above review, I am sure it would do well at Oberhausen, but would probably draw a reaction akin to Krusty the Clown’s reading of Worker and Parasite from general audiences. Something tells me that the makers of this film won’t care too much that their product has such limited appeal, though, and nor should they.  

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