I was in Pismo Beach, CA, over New Year’s. The area of Shell Beach where I was staying reminded me of parts of the South Bay in Los Angeles in the 1960’s, back when beach communities in Southern California were often a little ramshackle and run-down, before every square inch of coastal property was crammed with hotels, restaurants, and the weekend homes of rock stars and billionaires.
Somehow, looking at the modest seaside houses and apartments of Shell Beach, the liquor stores, diners, and bait shops, made me remember a short film I saw in a movie theater around 1965 or 1966. The film was called “Skater Dater.” I didn’t remember much about the film other than I thought it had been shot in the South Bay, and I remembered loving it. The film is eighteen minutes long and concerns a group of young boys between 12 and 14 years old who ride skateboards on the streets around Redondo and Hermosa Beach and Rolling Hills. I didn’t go to see “Skater Dater” intentionally. It just happened to be playing between whatever two feature films I had gone to watch on a Saturday afternoon fifty years ago.
Thinking about this short film, I went on YouTube and typed in “Skater Dater.” The 1965 film came right up. I watched it. It was charming. I also loved seeing the Southern California of my youth – the 50’s and 60’s era cars, the bushy blonde haircuts on the boys, the primitive wooden skateboards that all of us had in those days. It was a trip back in time. I was the same age as the boys in the film at the time I first saw it.
Then I read about “Skater Dater” on Wikipedia. I was surprised to learn that the film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1966 and was nominated for an Oscar that same year. No wonder it showed up at my local movie theater all those decades ago. It was an award-winning short.
I read that “Skater Dater” inspired David O. Russell to become a filmmaker.
For some reason, I never forgot “Skater Dater.” I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was because it’s a coming of age story about a young boy who is ready to move on from his childish pursuits and get interested in girls. That’s where I was emotionally when I first saw the film. “Skater Dater” also has a wonderful soundtrack of surf music. And there’s no dialogue. Every part of the story is conveyed visually, through shots and the looks on the faces of the characters.
I always figured that “Skater Dater” wasn’t much of a movie, and it was probably my unsophisticated tastes that made me like it in the first place. Now I find out it’s a memorable short film that kind of made history.
I’ve learned over the years that many of the movies I loved in my youth, much of the music I enjoyed, and many of the books I read – stuff that I was often embarrassed to admit I liked – was actually pretty great. I wasn’t as uncool as I thought I was.
What did this experience teach me? Trust your instincts. If you love something, maybe there’s a good reason. And likely you’re not the only one.
I think that’s important for writers to remember. Yes, we ought to listen to criticism of our work. What we write can always be improved. But what gets the words onto the page are your gut instincts. If those instincts are good, then you’ve got a shot at having your work appreciated.
I always loved “Skater Dater.” I’m glad that director Noel Black trusted his instincts and made a short film, for $17,000, that meant something to him. It won awards. It opened doors for him. And all these years later, it still means something to me. That’s success for an artist.