Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator

Mark "Gator" Rogowski is currently serving a term of thirty-one years to life in prison for rape and murder. This is a long way off from his earlier life of skateboarding demigod, product endorser, and all around cool bad boy. Gator's story is the subject of a fascinating new documentary by Helen Stickler (Andre the Giant Has a Posse). It gives a human (and flawed) face to skateboarding, a sport that in recent years has gained mainstream acceptance and is still growing in popularity. In doing this, it tracks the dangers of fame, and how too much of it can ruin a person. Stoked is also a nice companion film to another good documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys, which tracks the reinvention of skateboarding to its modern form. After tracking the rise in popularity and stardom of its pioneers, Stoked takes over and shows the next generation of skateboarding, who took the sport to new heights, literally and figuratively.

Skateboarding once, and still does project an image of rebellion. Adults hate the fact that kids can zip by, make noise, and mess around in their empty pools. It also takes lots of strength and artistry, especially when flying up half pipes. This form of skating is called "vert skating, " and Gator was a pioneer in this. He was the quintessential bad boy, ready to mouth off at anything and everything, which only increased his popularity. He became the spokesman for Vision, a company that embraced the skateboarding image and produced clothing to such effect, which caused his star to rise even further. Fame came so fast for skateboarders like Gator, Tony Hawk, and Steve Cabellero, that some people had no clue what to do with it.

Stickler interviews a number of Gator's contemporaries, including his ex-fiancee Brandi McClain, who is able to give a human side to Gator. Beyond his skateboarding persona, he lived, isolated in a huge house in Fallbrook, CA, surrounded by avocado groves. He was possessive of Brandi, and jealous of her actions. Taken as a whole, the various clips and interviews portray Gator as a hard partier, a young man running amok with little supervision. Everywhere he went adoring fans and grateful sponsors ensured he could pretty much do whatever he wanted, be it running around naked in hotel and jumping out a window, or ditching a tour to watch Prince in concert. Stickler meticulously tracks events in Gator's life, intercut with lots of footage including some interesting video outtakes.

As some of his peers matured, Gator got even worse. Skateboarding legend Stacy Peralta argues that some of the companies had a hand in this. If they wanted to use him as a way to generate sales, they should also be responsible and teach them how to be mature adults. Gator did try to learn the business side of skateboarding, but his popularity fell as quickly as it rose, as a new form of skateboarding became popular. This is where Stoked gains momentum. As his peers diversify and begin their own businesses (Jason Jessee now owns a company, and is probably the most amusing interviewee), Gator tried repeatedly to regain his fame and more importantly, his fortunes. This begins a descent that includes excess drinking, makes a stopover into Christianity, and ends with a gruesome murder. Stickler, and Gator himself pull no punches in criticizing his actions. Now in jail, Gator has finally matured. It's too late to do much about it, and Stoked serves as a giant warning sign for all to the perils of fame.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 22 minutes, Not Rated but contains language and partial nudity, an easy R.

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