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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Sports > Skateboarding > Stoked - The Rise & Fall Of Gator

Stoked – The Rise & Fall Of Gator


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Program: B



In one of the best examples of the American Dream turning into the American Nightmare, the tale of Mark “Gator” Rogowski should have been one of the great successes of a young man with groundbreaking and innovative talent that took him to the top and kept him there.  However, producer/director Helen Stickler pulls off a remarkable look at his life and what went wrong in Stoked – The Rise & Fall Of Gator (2002).


Gator’s gift was a superior knack for skateboarding in a way that had never been seen before, so much so that he helped make the fun pastime into a sport.  He made commercial deals that were risks at a young age and benefited him immensely, plus, made him a star with a huge following.  However, though the documentary does not make enough of an issue of this, it turns out he was pretty much an undiagnosed Manic Depressive and instead of anyone (or himself) recognizing this and him getting treatment, he rode high for years and went into a slow decline that included a “discovering” of Christianity that many with the disease have that has nothing to do with the actual thing, then complications that brought out the worst in him.  That led to a murder that he committed on an ex-girlfriend’s friend, then turned himself willingly over to the police.  He has been in prison since 1991 serving a 31-years-to-life sentence as a result.  This was not a normal killing, though it was ultimately gruesome.


This is not to say that he is not guilty of the murder.  He is, as a matter of fact, 100% so.  However, though Stickler is more interested in capturing his lost life and the great and even beautiful sports world (read X-Games) he helped to create until he had a Moses moment that did not allow him to reach the very promised land he built.  If any of his promoters or business partners knew or had any hint of his illness or the potential long-term damage it could cause, they did nothing about it and are as responsible for the girl’s death as he is.


The downward spiral began when the sport expanded and he began to become isolated.  If he did not have the disease, drugs and drinking notwithstanding, he would not have gone into the direction he did.  People always scoff at people when they say fame is hollow because all they think about is the money and an imagined “set for life” situation that is more fictional than anything else.  With success and money comes responsibility.  If success was sufficient enough, Gator would have been happier and why nobody noted his sometimes bizarre behavior when dealing with death and distorted reality; unfunny things that seemed funny to him, but turned out to be a cry for help.


The full frame image is a variety of analog videotaped formats throughout the 1980s to date, which ultimately ranks above average when cut together.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound comes from DTS Stereo theatrical film sound, an analog system, which explains why this sounds so good.  Too bad it was not actual DTS, but that is not to say this was a 5.1 film, and there are no surrounds here on this DVD.


The extras, especially segments at their longer length, show the position he was in.  His friends not only missed this, but then blame him and dump on him 100% when all is said and done.  Not one of these people asked themselves if it was their fault in any way shape or form; if they missed any of the signs of where he was.  Only one came close.  Depression kills too, but intended or not, all around him only compounded the situation.  There is a timeline with links to the documentary and 16 of those bonus clips that truly expand an already solid work.  Stickler is a very impressive filmmaker and journalist, so much so that I can make these statements with enough confidence based on the content and form of the materials here.  This is potentially a very important filmmaker.  Stoked is a must-see.


Oh, and one more thing.  The angle of this review begs the question: was there any glimmer of hope or a chance Gator could have avoided this fate.  The moment happened on Club MTV, hosted by Downtown Julie Brown.  On camera, she acts friendly, fun, personable, kind and the epitome of the hip lady.  It turns out that in real life and off camera, there are $3 bills with more authenticity than she.  Her arrival at the network marked the beginning of the end of MTV as a network worth anyone’s time or to be held with the serious consideration it began with.  At the time Mark most needed to connect with someone who had success and could at least be nice to him without owing him anything, she ran away from him and hid from him between takes like the ignorant coward and idiot she obviously is.  This is not to say she owed him anything, as it is obvious she always took more than she ever gave anyhow.  It never hurts to be mean and can produce the opposite when in the hands of immature, un-professionals who make it on The Peter Principle like Ms. Brown (not to be confused with the great comedienne of the same name).  I give Miss Stickler huge credit for keeping that moment in her work, because it speaks volumes about all parts of the entertainment business.  Even as a convicted murderer, Rogowski is STILL too good for Ms. Brown.  I am not sorry for Mark Rogowski, as I am for everyone who was ruined by being unprepared by the situation that eventually imploded on Rogowski.  There is no support for new talent going into any sport or entertainment still to this day, so the few who make it and stay there either realize what is going on or also need to see this work.


This even extends to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997), where it is hinted that even Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler is the hollow shell of what he could have become before he changed his name, as well as his identity to a shallow persona.  I do not think that the Gator persona was that problematic, but in both cases, the fall from grace was the kind that should have never happened.  Diggler did not deserve it just for being in the XXX film business and Rogowski did not deserve it before the murder he committed either.  The post-murder fate is an act of self-destruction and anyone who does not realize this is inane.  Rogowski as an at least somewhat happy and satisfied “Gator” died years before his heinous crime and this portrait may just make Stoked – The Rise & Fall Of Gator a documentary classic.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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