(This is part of a series. Start with Narration and Titling, Part One.)
Informal Versus Formal: Dogtown and Z-Boys
The narration by Sean Penn in Stacy Peralta’s 2001 Dogtown and Z-Boys reflects the informal, anti-establishment approach of the filmmakers through a strange mix of formal “storytelling” narrative combined with the inclusion of Penn’s informal throat clearings and restatements.
Selected in part for his fame and credibility as an actor, Penn’s real connection to the story of the film is his history as a Southern California youth and his infamous role as Jeff Spicoli, the ludicrous surfer character from 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Penn’s metamorphosis from this stereotypical surfer into a serious actor parallels the development of the film’s director, Peralta, from a long-haired surfer (physically resembling the Spicoli character) into a serious documentarian.
The film also plays with the fact that its director also serves as the main “informant” for its ethnography of circa-1982 Southern California, appearing on camera as needed as a sort of second narrator, often supplying crucial information to clarify the story where no clear visual exists.
A key element of how both narrators function in this film is that, while both are white males, they have voices that vary in timbre and style from that of a traditional “voice of god” narrator. While Penn’s omniscient text is written in a manner matching that model, it is offset by his delivery: his seriousness is perceived as striving to present the story of the rise and fall of a sport not taken seriously, and thus avoids an authoritarian tone.
Next: The Computer-Based Diary Film: Tarnation