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Plexifilm presents
Fruit of the Vine (1999)

"If we weren't skating these pools, they'd just be another part of the great American wasteland, you know?"
- Coan Nichols

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: December 10, 2002

Stars: Coan Nichols, Rick Charnoski, Steve Alba, Tony Alva, Pat Quirk
Director: Coan Nichols, Rick Charnoski

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, trespassing, vandalism)
Run Time: 00h:56m:27s
Release Date: November 12, 2002
UPC: 082354000325
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C+AA- C

DVD Review

"The situation's gnarly—you're about to trespass, like you've gotta jump over the fence quick and get in there and hope that nobody saw you do it. But when you find the pool it's like this thing that should be condemned, and then skaters find it, and then like, the first thing they do is start to clean it up." - Steve Alba

They were the status symbol of the American Dream in the 1950s, when every respectable middle class Californian had a pool in their backyard. As the economic climate changed, neighborhoods that once were the envy of society turned into decrepit wastelands of decaying Americana. The pools that once gleamed in their blue reflective waters now lay empty, neglected, and filled with all manner of stomach turning waste; in these hollows lay a gold mine for the adventurous skateboarder, risking jail time and serious injury for the challenge of reclaiming and conquering these playgrounds for their sport. They are the pool riders.

Fruit of the Vine showcases an extreme subculture born in the early 1970s and coming to national attention during the droughts of the mid seventies. Small bands of riders jumped fences and stole into backyards looking for a place to ride, covertly draining pools, or spending hours removing the rancid and noxious waste from those left unattended. The thought of some of the things they found is enough to make one sick, and the images here of some of the locations, with riders covered in flies, surrounded by sewage or stagnant water littered with rotting fish does not play like a holiday brochure. But therein lies the challenge, to overcome the obstacles and ride that forsaken pool, no helmets or padding to cushion a 12-foot drop, breaking the law by trespassing or destroying fencing to gain access to their prize.

For their debut skateboard feature, Coan Nichols and Rick Charnoski set out on a cross-country pilgrimage in the summer of 1999 in search of these forgotten symbols of prosperity, seeking out the elusive gold mines for pool skaters nationwide, and the people that ride them. Shot on Super 8, the film has a great retro feel—had I not read the liner notes, I would have assumed much of this was vintage footage. Narration by a collection of the subculture's most prestigious skaters provides the history of the sport, its evolution and its culture. Even for nonskaters, it presents an interesting story and glimpse of Americana, while also showcasing a plethora of riders doing their thing, in a gritty and grainy collection of sequences.

From Southern California to Seattle to Baltimore to the Salton Sea, Nichols and Charnoski capture what draws these pool-riding fanatics to their calling, and some of the colorful personalities that make up the activity's populace. There is a fair share of claimstaking and rivalry between those providing the narrative, but also a good deal of respect for their peers. The history of skateboarding and pool-riding around the nation, which gave rise to modern skate parks and newer sports like snowboarding, is relayed by many of those who saw it all happen.

For the most part, Fruit of the Vine was a very interesting watch, but I'll admit that the profusion of coarse language encountered in the last third and in the tag-on sequence degraded what had been a fairly intelligent and informative narration. The atmosphere has an almost haunting feel to it in places, and the stylistic and musical soundtrack choices were excellent, elevating this above just a show-off piece for the riders. I do think that parents will have a hard time with this, due to the premise of the subject matter and especially the amount of coarse language.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This was shot on Super 8, which is inherently very grainy, and the grain structure is accurately transferred here, with no signs of digital degradation or compression induced jerkiness—this looks exactly how I'd expect the raw film to look. Colors are somewhat washed or faded, images aren't extra crisp and defined and there are blips and blotches all over the place. In other words it looks like home movies from the 1970s, which is perfect for the subject matter.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Stereo audio is also very fitting for the style and feel of this film. Narrative dialogue is for the most part easy to discern, although some of the interview segments do have ambience issues. The soundtrack is appropriate, and doesn't bury the speaker. Any anomalies seem to lie in the source.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Outakes and interviews
Extras Review: Outtakes and interview footage running 17m:27s are provided, broken into three chapters featuring Steve Alba, Tony Alva and Pat "The Q" Quirk. Most of the dialogue is identical in substance to the final narration, but here the speaker is on camera, and there is also alternate footage of the pools and riders. As he did in the feature, Mr. Quirk, admitedly stoned and foaming at the mouth, punctuates his diatribe on his "skater army" with an abundance of profanity.

The eight-page insert booklet features stills of a few of the riders seen in the film, plus an essay by Steve Alba, which aside from being a portrait of the extreme pool-riding mentality and a call to arms for the "skate commandos," contains some unpleasant descriptions of the contents of many of their pool finds.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

For a mature audience, Fruit of the Vine makes an interesting commentary on the pool-skating culture. The visual style and music combine to form a memorable experience, with a good deal of historical perspective and insight into the skater mentality. I would suggest however, that parents think twice about exposing impressionable would-be riders to the content here, based on the illegal and potentially dangerous nature of many of the activities, and the excessive foul language.


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