Film Review: Stoked The Rise and fall of Gator (2002)

SYNOPSIS:

The aggressive style of Mark Gator Rogowski (a.k.a. Gator Mark Anthony)–his unpredictable lines, and outrageous personal antics–made him a favorite on the 80’s pro skateboarding circuit, and for years he rode a career wave of fame, wealth, and world travel. At the end of the decade Gator found himself with personal and career troubles, and tried to reinvent himself with a name change, new sponsor, born-again Christianity, and a split from his longtime girlfriend. No one knew how bad his mental state had slipped, until in the spring of 1991, when–at the age of 24–he confessed to the murder of a 20-year old girl known well by many in the skateboard scene. Gator is now serving 31 to life in prison for rape and murder. This chronicle is the result of six years of persistence and investigation, the film is really about how the commercialization of a once authentic youth culture curdled the fortunes–and psyche–of its first golden boy.

REVIEW:

Directed by: Helen Stickler
Starring: Jason Jessee, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Jason Lee, Mike Vallely, Kevin Staab, Ken Park, Brandi McClain, Stacy Peralta, Dave Duncan, Tony Hawk and Mark “Gator” Rogowski

Hell-o, Thrashers, True Crime Buffs, Grinders, Shredders and even all of you Posers. This is a documentary for everyone into extreme sports, death defying stunts, eighties punk music, wild threads and human extremities. It is a “rated A (-E! Online)” and R “joy ride (- The Village Voice)” from beginning to the end. If you are or ever were into skateboarding as I was as a young lad… You must see this “gripping”(-LA Times) film of the life, stardom, loves, fame, fury, failure and wipe out of Mark (“Gator”) Rogowski (later known as Mark Anthony).

For all of you that skated back in the eighties and nineties, Mark was the dude behind the best selling Vision Gator board. He was also the genesis for the Vision Street Wear clothing line as well as a design consultant for the company. He was the most outspoken, rude and trouble causing skater on the circuit. The skater kids and skater girls (“Bettes”) loved and adored him. He was someone that most who crossed his path would never forget. Some have not to this day. They will never be able to forget him. He was all of this and so much more. He has certainly left a dent in the skateboarding industry and most of all, many peoples’ lives.

Before the documentary review, I’ll take you on a four wheeled wooden ride to his stardom. Mark moved to San Diego with his mother. He was somewhat of an outcast. A local skate park opened in his neighborhood and Mark called it his home away from home. As he mentions in older interviews from the documentary… He ate it, he breathed it and he lived it.

After being picked up by Vision at a skating competition, the fruits of life only exceeded for this young, teenage, up and coming Thrasher. He was seventeen and his rise to fame was approaching. At twenty one, he became a design consultant for Vision Street Wear (and pretty much their poster boy/ mascot). His clothing line and signature skateboard (again, The Vision Gator) were top selling and he was on his way to the top. He competed all over the world, made tons of money and was idolized by everyone in the industry.

There are interviews with “Gator” where he almost seems like Ferris Bueller at times. His charisma and somewhat of a conceited attitude really stands out for anyone who met him in his later skating days. Some admired him and thought he was a prick at the same time. This included other professional skaters who had idolized him in their beginning days of the sport.

He sometimes drank naked, skated naked and reeked havoc upon the hotels that the occupied during the Swatch Impact Tour in London, Germany and beyond. He was invited to be on Club MTV with “Downtown” Julie Brown. The industry was booming and Mark made several videos for Vision. He met many superstars of the time, such as Cindy Crawford and Michael Hutchinson of INXS. His rebellious attitude began to blossom and somewhat gave him a name all its own.

During a skate competition at Mount Trashmore, Mark punched a cop and was arrested. The kids loved it. He got almost more of an applaud for socking a cop than for his skating abilities. At the time, he thought it was a rent-a-cop. Thrasher Magazine snapped a shot of the incident and it was immortalized in the magazine. This was also a turning point for Gator’s antics, and career.

The documentary shows that not only can he skate, but he can play the guitar (pretty decently) and sing as well. He bought his own (half a million dollar) home in Fallbrook, California, along with Tony Hawk and many other professionals. Ramps were built and a group of skaters made this their thrashing ground.

He met a girl named Brandi and in the eyes of both… It was love at first sight. He eventually asked her to move into the home with him and begin a life together. She did and seclusion started to eat at the both of them. He was beginning to become possessive over Brandi. He basically did not want another person looking in her direction. He began to leave her home alone in the middle of acres of avacado groves in the middle of the night, or several nights at that.

Mark hired a professional body trainer and wanted a healthier lifestyle. Even so, his rebellious side was still there. It was getting worse and turning into an abusive outlet for young admirers. During a tour in Sydney, Australia, Mark had become tiresome and irritated. A persistent teenage fan kept nagging him for an autograph. He tried to shun the little dude in a semi-polite manner, but he would not go away. Finally, Mark gave him a lethal dose of his own police repellent and punched him in the face in front of a large crowd of spectators. From there, his sales in down under country soared steeply… down under. His numbers dropped immensely as with his reputation. At this point, he had already punched a few cops in his career. He took a drunken swan dive from a hotel room in Germany and was hospitalized and pouring blood from various wounds in his neck, head and face. A witness said it sounded like soda being poured from a can… That’s brutal. The next morning, Gator’s mind was blank of the incident, until he noticed his condition.

Mark saw the direction he was headed. Then, literally overnight, vert (ramp) skating was out and a new breed of street skaters were now in the spotlight. Mark tried and tried at street skating but could not get a grasp on it as he did the pools and ramps. His career was starting to bail on him. He was almost out of money and had no one to turn to, until a local surfer introduced him to someone of a different spiritual guidance, Jesus Christ (blah). Mark began preaching the word of his newly found Lord to all of the kids. His friends and fellow skaters were starting to see this as an identity crises, along with formally changing his name to Mark Anthony. He began to ridicule psychology and turn towards religion for his misfortunes in life.

This was freaking Brandi out, along with the overbearing possessiveness. She broke up with Mark and met a younger surfer that was around her age and she got along with his family as well. Mark did not find this to his satisfactory. He somewhat believed that women were supposed to obey the man and never leave. He began to stalk Brandi at her parents’ home and even her new surfer love’s as well. He broke into her parents’ home and stole everything he had ever given her. Finally, he told her that he wanted to sexually assault her in every way possible and dump her body in the desert. This is where his life took a turn for the worst… The next section gets a bit graphic: Be warned…

He never got to follow through with his horrific threat, on Brandi. She had a friend named Jessica Bergston, that was introduced to Mark and (fellow skate pro) Christian Hosoi at a skate competition. Mark wanted to get Brandi back, but had no means of doing so, until one night… He and Jessica hung out at his home, drank some wine and began to watch television. Mark was not much of a drinker at the time. At some point of the night (believed to be as Jessica was getting ready to depart the home and return to her own), Mark hit her in the face with “the club,” the vehicle protection device. He then took her up to his bedroom where he handcuffed her to the bed. He brutally followed through on everything he had in store for his ex, Brandi. He sexually assaulted her for three hours, on the bed and the floor. As she tried to scream for help, he then placed her in a surfboard bag and strangled her to death. Mark took her remains and put them in the desert, just as he planned to do with Brandi.

The remains were found, but before Mark confessed to the murder. Finally, he thought that he could be at one with the lord if he confessed and so he did. At first, he pleaded guilty in hopes of a lesser sentence. Then, his story began to change. He said that it was her fault (give me a f*cking break). Mark “Gator” Rogowski/ Anthony was sentenced to six years for the rape and is now serving a twenty five year to life sentence for the first degree murder of Jessica Bergston. He apologized to her family, but they did not accept his plea or belief in god (not shown in its entirety this film). That brings us to this documentary, STOKED: The Rise and Fall of Gator.

Besides the Paradise Lost series, this is my absolute favorite True Crime documentary of all time. As I have always said (when it comes to True Crime), I am a “stickler” for facts and realism. Helen Stickler provides every detail in this amazing account of Mark’s life, top his life sentence. There are interviews with some of the best skaters from the era, including Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Kevin Staab and Jason Jessee. Most of the stars of this film were also in the (Fictional) skateboarding crime Drama, Gleaming the Cube, with Christian Slater. They acted as major rolls, along with providing the stunts for the film. Jason (Jessee) is my absolute favorite to watch in this documentary as he is interviewed about skating and Mark in general. He is sarcastic and has some of the funniest one liners throughout the film. Remember folks, there is no acting and no script. This is pure Jason humor. Jason (as with most of the other pros, besides Tony Hawk, of course… He was the one to beat in competition) all start out talking about the skating lifestyle, Mark’s colorful personality and influence he had on them. Helen does a brilliant job of keeping the viewer glued as the first portion of the film is a fun, carefree trip down memory lane. Everyone is laughing as they remember the times had skating and most of all, hanging with Gator. The latter part of the documentary is the darker half, which deals with the obsession, downfall and murder.

If you’re an old school Punk fan (I, myself for the most part am not), the soundtrack has classic tracks from Black Flag, such as Rise Above. The Butthole Surfers, Dead Kennedys and Agent Orange are also included. If there’s one complaint I had(at all, whatsoever), it was in the soundtrack department. There was no Suicidal Tendencies… Blasphemy.

The viewer can tell as the conversations get darker throughout the film. Some of the subtitles even list the interviewees as “former friends.” They go from holding Gator at the highest regard as a pro skater, to verbally bashing him for his crimes and behavior. Some think he should never see the light of day for what he has done. The most noticeable change in character is with Brandi. She is laughing at first. By the end of the film, she is in tears and asks them to cut the camera for a moment. Jason Jessee goes from praising him, to explaining that he always wanted to tell Mark off for what a prick he was.

Besides the interviews, there is awesome skating footage throughout the film. Just about every pro from the era’s talent is displayed. If you like to watch skating at it’s best, check this documentary out, it will not disappoint. There are also still photos and phone interviews with Mark from prison throughout as he explains his rise… and fall. The other interviews reflect this as well. Some have even turned their back and walked away from the industry because of the dark light that Mark has cast upon it.

Included in this documentary are scenes from older skating videos and promotions from Vision Street Wear, which Mark was asked to act. The acting part, he was not so good at as you can plainly see. In no way would he ever win an Oscar. One thing was certainly clear… He may have not been able to act, but he sure could skate. During the scenes of the decline of ramp skating, we see his frustration starting to build up inside of him. He throws his boards, screams obscenities and wipes out just about every time. During the end, graphic and disturbing photos of Jessica’s remains are shown, along with crime scene footage and evidence markings. There are interviews with his attorney and arresting officers.

Those of you non- Horror fans (or those with a wider spectrum than I have in cinema, as I am Horror only) may notice Mike Vallely from the CKY (Camp Kill Yourself) films and Bam Margera’s show on MTV. Bam himself makes a small cameo. Ex skater, turned actor, Jason Lee (Stephen King’s Dream Catcher, Kevin Smith’s Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks two) is also featured.

The DVD is jam packed with a two page menu of extra features. There is rare outtakes of the arrest incident at Mount Trashmoore. There are candid reviews with Mark and his ex, Brittany (before Brandi). There is a radio Mic demo. Awesome pool and ramp skating footage. The scene with Mark and Jason Jessee skating the pool in relay is awesome, but they should have shot from inside of the pool more. There are personal Christmas party videos, personal poems written to Brandi and Mark’s entire written confession. There is a time line of events and also a special that aired on Fuse TV about the documentary called Stoked: Uncovered. There is plenty footage of Mark just being goofy and showing his mutli- colored personality.

Overall, I highly recommend this documentary to anyone and everyone who will give it a chance. It is a roller coaster (or skatepark) of ups, downs and (for the most part) an all around good time. Some parts will make you laugh, some parts will make you cringe and the skating throughout blasts the adrenaline right from the screen and onto the viewer(especially if you were ever into the sport). This is all out entertainment on so many different levels that you would have to see it to believe it. Different from most True Crime documentaries, this is not a depressing ride the entire time… Until it gets to that point. The first part is pretty much a party in which you are invited first hand. With that being said, I give this documentary, STOKED: The Rise and Fall of Gator, FOUR (THRASHING) HORNS UP.

Stoked The Rise and fall of Gator (2002)

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