Last Monday saw what must have been the highest profile action sports’ (or ‘street sports’, as it was referred to throughout the programme) TV slot ever, with the 90 minute documentary Concrete Circus on Channel 4.
Director Mike Christie previously directed Jump London, which followed a couple of freerunners around London, back in 2003. I remember speaking to Sidewalk writer Ben Powell after that was aired, and we both said the same thing: imagine if they’d done the same thing with a skater and a real skate filmer. It could have been epic.
That was pretty much the premise for Concrete Circus, which saw four teams (Danny MacAskill and Stu Thomson, top; Killian Martin and Brett Novak, above; Blue, Phil Doyle and Claudiu Voicu; Keelan Phillips and Kendy Ty) from different ‘street sports’ (that phrase again) brought together and given a deadline and nice big budgets to try and surpass their previous online virals, all of which had, as plummy-voiced narrator Dominic West kept informing us, ‘gone viral‘.
The films themselves were visually amazing with obviously outstanding riding/parkouring (if that’s the technical term. Sorry free runners), although personally I wasn’t hugely keen on the slightly cheesy narrative in the parkour one (above), or the overly stylised nature of the Keelan Phillips/Kendy Ty offering (below).
So – was it any good? On the whole, I thought it was, even if I saw my Twitter stream filling up with plenty of negative comments from action sports industry types while the show was on. I can partially understand why – it was too long and drawn-out, there were some pretty wince-inducing moments in the script (such as the description of flatland BMX as ‘breakdancing on a bike’) and the end ‘Barbican Bolero’ section (below), was a bit too much like, well, Torvill and Dean’s Bolero for my liking.
All that carping aside, I did think it was a good achievement. Firstly, that Channel 4 are dedicating 90 minutes of primetime to these sports, and treating them so seriously, is a sign of how far we’ve come. That would have been a laughable prospect twenty years ago when I started skateboarding.
Secondly, I liked how the film at least tried to put all these sports and riders into their proper context, the odd duff note aside. Showing action sports to the mainstream without a) alienating the core audience b) completely confusing the newcomers, is a pretty difficult trick and I’ve seen some of the biggest brands in action sports get it hopelessly wrong. Similarly, when mainstream filmers get the chance to film action sports for the first time, it can be a disaster. We’re not talking about football here, where you point a camera at a pitch and it’s pretty obvious what’s going on. These are complex sports that don’t easily translate. There’s a reason why backflips get the biggest cheers at inner-city rail jams featuring the world’s most technical snowboarders, after all. In that light, I thought Concrete Circus was a good accomplishment.