Directed by #MattHarris
Film review by Nathanial Eker
It seems like 2020 is the year of the skateboard. The video games that turned Tony Hawk into a household name are remastered during the final days of the eighth generation of gaming, while at the same time, a documentary about a beloved indie park is released. Rom Boys is a time capsule filled to the brim with nostalgia and is as much a mausoleum as it is a trip down memory lane. It wonderfully captures the zeitgeist of a community on the outskirts of society and eloquently explores the highs and lows of this nostalgic safe haven for skaters, bikers, and those seeking solidarity.
Romford Skate Park, or 'Rom' quickly cements itself as the film's star and a character in its own right. The level of charm radiated by a few simple half pipes and holes in the ground is shocking and palpable, especially to the non-skater layperson. Yet a blend of close and distant cinematography, sharp editing, and a surprisingly effective use of filters and aspect ratios gives 'Rom' a sense of identity from the get go.
This is - of course - in no small part thanks to the community of skaters that frequent it. Rom Boys quickly establishes that there will be no one central protagonist, but the eclecticism of those we do meet only furthers the notion that 'Rom' was a place for everyone; devoid of race, class, or occupation. If you love to skate or BMX, 'Rom' was, and perhaps still is, the place for you.
The film regrettably dawdles along at the beginning and struggles to find its wheels. However, after a few ollies and grinds explaining where we are, its MO becomes abundantly apparent; saving the listed building from destruction and preserving the memories held there. Director Matt Harris does a great job of selecting interview clips that give a sense of the historical and social importance of 'Rom'. By its end, I found myself gasping in horror when 2018's tragic blaze engulfed much of the recognisable architecture.
Harris also has a lot of fun with music, blending the gritty action of his cinematography with classics like Peer Gynt Suite and The Coronation Anthem. This bleeds over into wider reflections on the artistic and historical merit of BMX and skateboarding and how they impacted the UK during the 70s and 80s. For an enthusiast, these brief sequences may distract from the meat of the matter, but for the layperson they help to explain the bohemian obsession with a plank with four wheels in a digestible way.
Rom Boys is a loving tribute to a niche sport and an iconic park, devilishly hidden in the heart of Hornchurch. It suffers from pacing issues and is a little long, but Rom Boys is ultimately a triumph, and a living, breathing testimony to why this innocuous mound of concrete meant so much to so many. Through colloquial music and art and excellent cinematography, Harris' documentary could have us fooled that this is California at the height of skate-fever, though the copious shots of rain quickly reminds us that we're in England.
Skaters will likely love Rom Boys and its exploration of their cultural and social zeitgeist. However, there is much for the layperson to enjoy too in this well-crafted documentary which may just get you signing that petition to save 'Rom'.