Arts and Entertainment

“Play Dead”: A Product of Its Predecessors or a Supreme Advert?

Strobeck’s latest project, “Play Dead,” pushes his signature stylistic choices too far, making the skateboarding itself hard to appreciate.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Skateboarding’s legacy has always been one of casual ingenuity. Invented in California as a means to surf on land, skateboarding arose as an offshoot of surfing culture. As skating gradually became its own art form and distanced itself from its precursor, skaters across the nation invented new tricks and maneuvers, each more daring than the last. As the culture of skateboarding spread, skate videos rose in popularity as a means for skaters to document their exploits.

One of the earliest skate videos, “The Bones Brigade Video Show” (1984), set standards which became foundational for future skate videos, like utilizing a cameraman riding a skateboard alongside the filmed skater to record tricks, eventually being compiled and edited to music. Additionally, B-roll (footage that is not skateboarding) was included, giving a unique and immersive feel to “The Bones Brigade Video Show” and making the skaters more personified for audiences. The staples of skate video B-roll introduced in this video, like skaters being attacked by security guards or scolded by pedestrians, are incorporated in most modern skate videos.

With “The Bones Brigade Video Show” as its foundation, H-Street’s “Shackle Me Not” (1993) video was born. It was the first to use a fisheye lens to record skateboarding and incorporated a punk aesthetic, which is now heavily associated with not only skateboarding videos but also skate culture.

William Strobeck began filming skateboarding in the early ‘90s outside of an art museum in Syracuse, New York. At the age of 17, he moved to Philadelphia, the center of East Coast skateboarding at the time, and continued to film, honing his craft and working on some of the most influential videos of the early 2000s. In 2012, Strobeck released his first short film, “My Lovely Mess,” and began filming his first video for Supreme, “Cherry.”

“Cherry” (2014) marks a distinct shift in the general aesthetic and cinematography of modern skate videos. In “Cherry” (and his later videos for Supreme), Strobeck intentionally focuses less on showcasing technically impressive skate maneuvers and more on the vibe of the skaters themselves, emphasizing the grime, glamor, and culture of New York City skateboarding. Skateboarding in New York is unique because of the city’s unpredictable and often unpleasant weather. With this threat hanging over their heads, New York skaters tend to fully commit to every trick they attempt because they don’t know when it will be warm enough for them to come back and try again. Strobeck spotlights this specific toughness of New York skaters by including their bloody injuries and complete lack of fear. He also includes B-roll of confessions of love the skaters receive, interactions they have with elderly pedestrians, and harassment they receive from bystanders.

“Cherry” ultimately serves as an advertisement for Supreme, showing how brave and tough those who don the brand are. Strobeck’s goal in his videos is to sell a product—in this case, for Supreme—so the priority of his filming is centered around marketing the “idea” of skating while simultaneously incorporating the distinctive Supreme logo in shots. This marketing ingenuity, combined with the video’s grayscale filming and creative editing which Strobeck borrows from “My Lovely Mess,” gives “Cherry” a revolutionary cinematic quality which he then applies to his subsequent videos.

Strobeck’s latest project with Supreme, “Play Dead” (2022), arguably pushes the stylistic choices set in “Cherry” too far, overemphasizing product advertisement and capturing the “skate vibe” but not enough of the skating itself. The video opens with a montage of skater Sully Cormier sliding and grinding on curbs and concrete barriers. Strobeck’s frantic camerawork and audio of “Change (In the House of Flies)” by Deftones mirrors Cormier’s frantic skating.

Sage Elsesser, one of the most technically skilled skaters featured in the video, appears in the following segment. However, Strobeck’s filming fails to highlight his skill and has moments where Elsesser completely exits the frame.

Strobeck strikes the perfect balance between capturing the skateboarding and personalities of the skaters while filming Ben Kadow. Kadow skates to Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” (1980), refreshingly accentuating Kadow’s tricks and whimsical nature. Strobeck achieves this balance again while filming skater Nik Stain to the song “One” by Metallica. The juxtaposition of Stain goofing around on his skateboard to the intense lyrics of James Hetfield (“Nothing is real but pain now / Hold my breath as I wish for death”) exemplifies the humor of Strobeck’s film style; he unashamedly presents an exaggerated and almost comical version of reality with his song choice and editing style.

“Play Dead” is concluded by Tyshawn Jones, one of the most talented skaters alive, who unfortunately is not exemplified by Strobeck’s videography. Jones leaps over trash cans and across enormous gaps, but the magnitude of these obstacles is almost impossible to discern. The most egregious example of this is Jones’s subway kickflip, one of the most impressive skateboarding feats, which Strobeck misses completely, cutting off Jones’s entire body and only showing his feet in frame. This moment encapsulates the weaknesses of Strobeck’s style; he carelessly glosses over one of the most important tricks of the decade, missing the mark for skate enthusiasts.

Skate videos are typically edited to compile a succession of smaller tricks that build up to one large trick, often teased months in advance and eagerly anticipated by the skateboarding community. Unfortunately, “Play Dead” falls short in this aspect. Strobeck’s filming and editing paired with the exhilarating music he chooses builds tension, but when the final trick of this video finally happens, the shot is so zoomed-in that it is impossible to appreciate. All of the excitement for the subway kickflip is killed by Strobeck’s poor filming, which makes the video ultimately unsatisfying despite how well put together some of it is. Though Strobeck’s videography has long supported the foundation of modern skate videos, his newest project “Play Dead” relies too heavily on intense and sporadic film shots, taking away from the skate content itself.