VOD film review: Rom Boys: 40 Years of Rad
British skating scene7
Matthew Turner | On 10, Dec 2020
Director: Matt Harris
Cast: Lance Mountain, Bob Haro, Pedro Barros, Ronnie Sandoval
Watch Rom Boys online in the UK: Echoboom Sports
Produced and directed by Matt Harris, Rom Boys is an engaging documentary that takes a nostalgic look back at an often-ignored aspect of British subculture, giving voice to the first generation of skateboarders and – to a lesser extent – BMX freestyle riders. As the title indicates, the film is centred on The Rom, one of the world’s oldest and most unique skateparks, built and opened in Hornchurch, Essex, in 1978.
Harris tells The Rom’s story through a combination of talking heads and archive footage, some of which dates back 40 years. The selection of interviewees includes skatepark regulars, the father-son management team behind The Rom, professional skateboarders (many of whom seem to have a sideline in skatepark design), authors and cultural commentators.
The publicity for the film mentions that it has been “15 years in the making”, which explains a rather charming element of the interview footage, namely that many of the skatepark regulars appear both in present day to-camera pieces and also in interviews that were clearly shot at least 15 to 20 years ago. It’s not quite on the level of Boyhood, but it does at least speak to their lifelong passion for skateboarding and just how much of a part The Rom has played in their lives.
Several characters emerge during the course of the film, most notably skatepark owner “Big Bad John”, who cheerfully admits to letting his pair of Dobermanns chase everyone out of The Rom when it’s closing time. Similarly, there’s longtime skater Dion, who reveals that skateboarding kept him on “the straight and narrow”, when all his other friends got into less than legal activities.
One small section proves especially interesting, when Harris gets various interviewees to reveal their day jobs and they range from carer and scaffolder to pilot and retired banker. There are also plenty of wince-inducing funny moments, with skaters cheerfully showing off their injuries – one talks about losing his “Hampsteads” (teeth), accompanied by footage of spectacular crashes.
If you’re coming to the film completely unfamiliar with The Rom, then the structure of the film hits you hard with a delightful high and a shocking low. The first is the reveal that The Rom achieved Grade II-listed status in 2014, granting it official historic protection. However, that’s followed shortly afterwards by a devastating fire in 2018, which occurred in the middle of filming and lead to the park’s closure.
That late-developing tragedy understandably shifts the focus of the film, so there’s a tail-end devoted to how skaters and BMXers old and young are rallying together to try and save the park, but there’s not quite enough of this to hang a story on and it might have been better left as a wallop-packing caption at the end. That said, it does allow for an amusing to-camera appearance by street artists The London Police, who are clearly trying just that little bit too hard to imitate Spinal Tap.
Rom Boys: 40 Years of Rad is available to watch online in the UK on Echoboom Sports, a streaming service that costs £3.99 a month. The platform is available through Amazon Prime Video Channels, as an add-on subscription to your existing account.