I watched The Search for Animal Chin for the billionth time recently and nothing changed. The dialog was still goofy, the acting awkward, and the “plot” scattered. But that’s OK. We’re not talking about auteur cinema here; it’s a fucking skate video—albeit one of the most legendary ever. You probably shouldn’t even be allowed to watch something like this past the age of 18, but Powell-Peralta is offering a free download of it, and I was sick of watching the US Open so I bit.
Seeing Animal Chin in 1987 was confusing because there was nothing like it. “When I first saw Animal Chin back in 1988, I remember thinking ‘Was this a real movie?’” Former Powell-Peralta pro Eric Ricks said. “I thought it was an actual Hollywood production with skateboarders in it. It was completely different than any skate video I had seen before.”
Prior to Animal Chin, the handful of skate videos that existed either documented contests like Savannah Slamma or were straight-forward promotional videos promoting a team’s riders. Powell-Peralta’s preceding release, Bones Brigade Video Show, had its share of skits and hokey skate-themed songs, but it was very much a skate video with some “acting.” The Search for Animal Chin was a movie with skateboarding in it… well, kinda.
Why is something so fucking dorky still beloved by skateboarding? Even though the Bones Brigade’s lines were scripted, their personalities shine through. I also catalyzed. Lance Mountain was the goofball, Tommy Guerrero was the kid, Steve Caballero was quiet and cool, Mike McGill was the boy next door, Tony Hawk was the best, and Rodney Mullen was the math-wiz, a precise freestyler. Through the clunky dialog, these characters developed and defined the Brigade. When asked if there was any trepidation about acting in the video Tommy Guerrero replied, “We never wanted to act… it was Stacy's idea, and perhaps a bad one! I'm sure there's plenty on the cutting room floor.”
“It was the first skate video I ever purchased,” Bones Bearings team manager Vern Laird said. "I remember watching the video in slow motion to figure out how they were doing the tricks. I even did the corny exercises they did in the motel. ‘Method air and one foot air and comb your Hair! Rocket Air Guys!’ Ha! It’s so bad now when I look back on it. But hey, I was 13 and I was hyped on skating, so I was absorbing everything I could get my hands on.”
Why is this relevant now? For one thing, this kitschy movie changed skateboarding at least three times. Stylistically, Animal Chin stood out from other videos because of the camera techniques and actual quality. The shots were more advanced and deliberate than anything that came before it. The monolith ramp the Brigade eventually finds was constructed specifically for the video, a precursor to Danny Way’s mega ramp and Jeremy Klein and Heath Kirchart’s shared part from The End. It also includes several songs created specifically for the film—who can forget Johnny Rad’s performance at the Blue Tile Lounge? Most importantly, it made the Bones Brigade into legitimate rock stars, on a level greater than the Z-Boys (which director Stacy Peralta was a member of in the 1970s). The image they created became a blueprint for other team’s rosters and marketing strategies.
The video made the Brigade seem so commercial and pedestrian, so much so that some teams—like Alva’s dreadlocked leather-jacket wearing maniacs—seemed to thrive off being a “fuck you” to these squeaky clean saints. And they were saints. Lance Mountain and Caballero aren’t shy about their Christianity, and other than getting kicked out of empty backyard pools, the core members of the Bones Brigade stayed out of trouble. Most of them never even stopped skateboarding professionally.
As quickly as it was embraced, Animal Chin became the what the average kid hated. What was viewed fondly by preteens, quickly became a cartoony day-glow bubble about to burst. As street skating grew in popularity and the influence of punk faded, Powell-Peralta became dated. Neil Blender famously mocked the skull-and-blood graphics of skateboarding’s past in the G&S video Footage, saying, “It’s 1990 boys, let’s get rid of the skeletons.” That, coupled with Blind Skateboards and Steve Rocco’s famous feud with Powell-Peralta, left the brand looking old and tired. Slick hour-long ramp dominated videos gave way to raw 20-minute street promos—some didn’t even have music. Most of the Brigade splintered off and founded their own brands, taking Blender’s advice and ditching the skeletons. Powell-Peralta quickly became the brand no one wanted to be riding.
A glut of half-assed small companies in the early 90s made it seem like any shithead with a credit card and a bad one-word name could have a skate brand. The wholesome Bones Brigade was replaced by teams like Plan B, a well-orchestrated super-team that ushered in a new era of competitive skateboarding with edgy marketing. With everyone killing themselves to go higher, faster, and bigger than the next guy, a lot of pros got burned out from the constant pressure. They were looking for fun, or really… searching for Animal Chin.
There’s no better example of this than a skit from Girl Skateboard’s debut video Goldfish. The Spike Jonze-directed movie included a skit titled “The Parallel” featuring Lance Mountain playing a pogo-stick professional. The cautionary tale shows Lance going from happy-go-lucky amateur to jaded professional, before finding the fun in pogoing as an old ass man. The video even featured the Girl team sessioning a jump ramp—a direct nod to Animal Chin.
In the years to follow, the acting taboo continued to be broken in skateboarding videos with skits sometimes overshadowing the actual skating. Videos now take years—not months—to produce, employing the latest HD equipment and multi-angle filming.
Along with the free download of The Search for Animal Chin is the official trailer for the Bones Brigade, acclaimed filmmaker Stacy Peralta’s latest documentary. Unlike Dogtown and Z-Boys, Stacy wasn’t a member of the Bones Brigade: he was their mentor.
We’ve seen a pretty common story arc in most skateboard documentaries: Ruggedly handsome California boy discovers the outlaw sport, blows off school, makes fake-real money as a teen, gets phased out, hits rock bottom, and then commits some crime before being reborn/embraced again. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much every documentary film that doesn’t end in someone dying or going to jail forever. It’s also a pretty similar storyline to Stacy’s 2001 film Dogtown and Z-Boys.
So what’s the storyline for these successful guys who avoided the many of the pitfalls of teenage superstardom? It wasn’t all as smooth as it appeared to the kids in neon T-shirts and fanny packs watching along. Tommy Guerrero describes the Bones Brigade movie as “partially a story of the trials and tribulations of each guy, and really about Stacy and how he created and marketed the team.”
Most of the core members of the Bones Brigade have continued on with their professional careers well into their 40s, or work in the industry. Oddly enough there’s no tragedy here other than some questionable clothing and hairstyles.