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Movie Review

Hill Street

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Director: JJ Rolfe

Starring: Tony Hawk, Clive Rowen, Johno, Shaggy, Roger Kavanagh, Rich Gilligan, Pete Rowen, Mike Keane, Graham McPhearson, Wayne Gallagher. Keith Walsh.

Duration: 82 minutes

Certificate 12A

1 of 5 Hill Street -
Hill Street - "like sculpture for a minute, then it's gone..."
2 of 5 Tony Hawk, renowned American skateboarder, is a contributor in the documentary Hill Street
Tony Hawk, renowned American skateboarder, is a contributor in the documentary Hill Street
3 of 5 Clive Rowen is the man who started it all at his shop in Dublin's Hill Street
Clive Rowen is the man who started it all at his shop in Dublin's Hill Street
4 of 5 Daring feats in Hill Street
Daring feats in Hill Street
5 of 5 Hill Street - sunset and skateboards
Hill Street - sunset and skateboards

Hill Street takes an engaging look at Dublin’s skateboarding scene, and features interviews with some of the leading lights, some of whom are now adults, well into middle age. In the late 1980s, these formerly raw recruits began to gather at Clive Rowen’s shop on Hill Street in Dublin’s North Inner City.

Described as a “surrogate father” figure by one of the younger contributors, Clive Rowen is a charismatic character with a quiet yet clearly burning passion for skateboarding.

Thirty years ago, young fellows from all around Ireland would travel as though on pilgrimage to Clive’s shop, described as an Aladdin’s Cave by one devotee. You sense that Rowen has done huge, unsung service for such young lads, despite the falls and the collisions. Lads who like skateboarding tend to hate football, he says.

No doubt Clive Rowen located in Hill Street for very practical reasons, but skateboarding enthusiasts with £100 in their pocket were nervous en route to his premises. Some of them put their money in their socks. One contributor talks of “the vaguely intimidating factor of actually getting to the place.” Another says: “We were complete weirdos as far as North Inner City Dublin people saw us.”

Coal was regularly thrown at the customers, and Clive would make regular runs  to Temple Street Hospital with his injured would-be clients. Skateboarders were treated like lepers. guys would elbow them or knock them off balance

Clive used to go to his shop early in the morning to erect skating ramps for his clientele, space which would otherwise be occupied by at least three parking spaces during the day. When the premises next door became vacant, he fitted out a shed with indoor skating facilities. Later he rented the then vacant Top Hat ballroom in Dun Laoghaire. Those were the days before proper skate parks.

Skateboarding is a respectable activity now, but the film replays lots of footage from when it was an underground - if practised overground - pursuit. The plazas at the Central Bank, or the Bank of Ireland HQ on Baggot Street were the skate tracks of the 1990s. Those were the days of ubiquitous prohibition notices, constant security guard vigilance and the gardaí constantly asking the young lads to go. That is until, by sheer persistence they got their own parks.

This overwhelmingly male activity is not without its poetry. “Like scuplture for a minute, then it’s gone,“ says one practicioner, in awe of the balletic shapes and the daring feats. One caveat: the film could have been shorn by 15 minutes, there is a feeling of longeur towards the end.

Still, Hill Street is a fine, unpretentious film.

Paddy Kehoe

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