MINDING THE GAP Review: Escape On a Plank
Rockford, Illinois is a city of nearly 150,000 people lying just east of Chicago. Once an industrial hub for production of heavy machinery and furniture, the Rockford we find ourselves introduced to in Minding the Gap faces massive economic depression, high unemployment rates, and soaring crime. A brief news snippet heard over a montage of rapidly aging neighborhoods reports that people are leaving in droves, and the atmosphere of the city, despite evident downtown revitalization efforts, reflects that reality.
Abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and empty downtown streets make the perfect environment for Zack, Keire, and Bing, three childhood friends who find their bliss on their skateboards. As adolescents, the boys tore up skate parks, pulling tricks and stunts in their downtime, or when they just needed to get away from whatever might be troubling them at home. Eventually, Bing picked up a video camera and began filming their exploits, its fish-eye lens capturing every scrape, road rash, wipeout, broken deck, and, joyously, successful stunt. Minding the Gap represents the extension of that early impulse, turning his camera from merely a record of his and his friends’ antics into something more self-reflective and probing.
See, as the group got older and began to grow, begrudgingly, into adulthood, Bing began to notice some connections from his own home life to things he saw hidden in the lives of his friends. It quickly becomes clear that the film will not merely be just another fun skate doc; Dogtown and Z-Boys this is not. Rather, Bing aims for darker and more personal subject matter, reckoning with genuine pain and trauma in his own life and observing those cycles repeating themselves in those around him. I will not say much of what, exactly, these observations and revelations entail, as to do so would rob the film of much of its emotional impact. However, I will say that the thesis immediately hinges on the question of why these boys are driven to skate in the first place.
I tried my hand at skateboarding when I was a kid. I was never any good; I didn’t have the balance, agility, coordination, or fearlessness with regard to bodily harm to even comfortably ride the board, let alone pop an ollie. But I was very drawn to the style and attitude of those who were good at it, and I’d always imagine what it felt like to actually ride well.
Bing’s cinematography removes the need to wonder. Riding on a board himself, camera in hand, he glides smoothly behind his friends, moving with grace and speed that fully captures the blissful feeling of his subjects. It is a stunning highlight of the film. The energy remains in tact better than any steadicam or tripod could do. And for these segments, the answer to Bing’s thesis is crystalline for as long as they last.
The rest of the film has the distinct purpose of determining where the need for this experience comes from. It’s well worth watching to find out. Keire perfectly expresses what you would expect he feels when he skates, as he is able to forget everything else for that time. And then when he wipes out, or the board breaks - a common occurrence that never stops being gasp-inducing, the rage unleashed afterwards always captivating - it all comes right back. Near the film’s end, Keire drops another nugget that sums up this relationship beautifully, the nature of which would also give away much. However, its dark implications seem lost on him, a smile plastered on his face as he says more about himself and the forces that have shaped him than he could ever realize. It’s the kind of thing that only a friend could tease out of somebody, and the trust of Bing’s friends give him much room to root around and extract the truths he feels they - and he - need in order to heal.
Minding the Gap is currently streaming on Hulu.