Street Flame

By Katherine Propper | Drama
A skate crew honors one of their own after a tragic accident.

Jinx is part of a skate crew, a large and loose group that roam the skate parks and ditches of Austin. But then “her name caught up with her,” and Jinx dies in an accident, leaving her friends with a sense of incompleteness from her loss.

They continue with their adventures, throwing up graffiti and skating, but soon as they grapple with their loss, more truth and emotions come out about Jinx’s accidents. They even try to go into her bedroom at home, looking for clues and closure into what happened. But even that search leaves them lacking, though Jinx’s grieving mom gives her friends Jinx’s board.

It’s not until they all come together for a final bonfire that they commemorate Jinx’s life and death in a way that makes sense for them, in a ritual that mirrors their style and values and honors their friend’s death in the same way she lived her life.

Writer-director Katherine Propper’s edgy yet intimate drama is about a group of teens reckoning with intimations of their own mortality for the first time, as illusions of their indestructibility tumble down with the passing of one of their own. It’s also about the delicate, sacred ways a community marks one of the key passages of life, in a way that illuminates the values and beauty of that group.

Filmed in collaboration with a group of teen skaters in Austin, the storytelling is marked by a loose, poetic yet gritty documentary-like approach, with a roving yet intimate camera capturing the small, almost totem-like details that make this group unique: the curlicues is smoke, the rolling of wheels on concrete, the tattoos on skin. The style allows for a closeness that feels ghostly and haunting in both its closeness and unobtrusiveness — and is fitting for a film that’s essentially about grief and death.

There is a sense of a narrative being guided and shaped, but much of the dialogue and performance has the feel of improvisation, and the structure is as freewheeling as a skate trick. The looseness suits the milieu and the subject matter, however: these skateboarders express themselves through physical gestures, expressions and action, and here they articulate the gaping, aching absence of an important and beloved member of their crew. Fully-formed heartfelt speeches would rupture the sense of intimacy; instead, the group commemorates their loss through a ritual that’s as improvised and provisional as their lives, but no less moving.

A favorite at Tribeca Film Festival, “Street Flame” may bring to mind a film like Larry Clark’s “Kids,” which is similar in its free-spirited documentary stylings and the subculture at its focus. But this short has a genuine respect and tenderness at its heart and an intriguing blend of the elegiac and the edgy. And in watching as this band of outsiders deal with death — just at the moment in life when they feel they are most invincible — it becomes a modern yet eternal meditation on how no one escapes the passing of life, and how a collective finds meaning in a sad, senseless loss.

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