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Film compounds real life drugs tragedy

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All This Mayhem (MA). Director: Eddie Martin. Starring: Tas Pappas, Ben Pappas. 104 minutes.

The story of the Pappas brothers is a tragedy, and not only in the ways that the makers of All This Mayhem would have you see it. 

Ben and Tas Pappas, from Melbourne’s working-class north, took the skating world by storm in the 1990s. Martin, the director of this documentary, knew them as audacious teenagers when they were busy re-invigorating the discipline of vert skateboarding at a suburban skate ramp.

He clips together amateur video footage from those heady early years, with archival footage from the pro circuit, and talking head interviews with Tas and the brothers’ peers, to chart their journey to America, the skating mecca, and their erstwhile global domination of the sport. Among other entertaining subplots, the film portrays their fiery rivalry with skating superstar Tony Hawk.

And it doesn’t skimp on the drugs-and-sex-addled reality in which they found themselves, fuelled by massive sponsorship dollars and the anarchic skating culture. But this is a cautionary tale, and it makes no bones about the role this lifestyle played in the downfall that both Tas and Ben eventually experienced.

Taken at face value, this is an excellent film; frank, frenetic and compelling. However its treatment of some of the details of Ben’s ‘downfall’, in particular, is deeply problematic. While these are on the public record, the film is best enjoyed with little prior knowledge. For that reason, consider this a SPOILER ALERT.

In 2007, eight years after a conviction for drug smuggling had put an end to his professional career, Ben committed suicide. Eight days earlier, his girlfriend, Lynette Phillips, had suffered a violent death. Drugs, and Ben’s deep depression, were factors in both deaths.

Meanwhile, Tas’ own professional career was severely impeded by a conviction and prison sentence for drug related offences. Despite this, for Tas, All This Mayhem ends on a note of fragile hope and possibly even redemption.

Herein lies the problem. After scuppering another filmmaker’s previous attempt at telling Ben’s story, the Pappas family authorised this version and retained some control over the content. This may account for its questionable treatment of some of the material, notably its sketchy treatment of the figure of Phillips.

Phillips was reportedly a recovering addict who had suffered violence from Ben, and had an intervention order against him. At the time of her death she was studying to become a drug and alcohol counsellor. These attributes suggest a person who was trying to escape, even atone for, a regrettable period in her life.

In 2012, a coroner’s inquest found that Ben was guilty of Phillips’ murder. But these facts are glossed over in the film. Phillips is presented as alien and inscrutable; a destructive influence in Ben's orbit who, intentionally or not, aided and abetted his downfall. 

In this regard the makers of All This Mayhem render Lynette as little more than a footnote in Ben's undeniably sad story. While the film does imply that Ben was responsible for her death, this fact seems little more than another stepping-stone on his own inevitable trek towards self-destruction.

That the film asks for — and skilfully elicits — sympathy for the addicted and clearly mentally ill Ben and, conversely, joy for Tas' chance at redemption, its virtual sidelining of the violence suffered by Phillips tacitly promotes an agenda that would be right at home in the manosphere. This is its greatest tragedy.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, All This Mayhem, documentary, skateboarding, drug addiction, youth culture



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Existing comments

Thank you for this Tim. It's a film I probably not have considered seeing. I mentored a year 9 boy in a country high school who's only interest in life was is skateboarding. His dream was to be a professional. He was a boy living in a very dysfunctional family but I was amazed how highly technical were his skills in building skate boards and ramps. I learned far more from him than he ever learned from me. And thanks for the full story. I'll go looking for this film.

Margaret McDonald | 17 July 2014  

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