I must warn that this review will not be very impartial or unbiased. I have been a fan of Isle since the day it began. Having worshipped the work of Dan Magee and the original team of the old Blueprint brand, I was expecting great things when Paul Shier and Nick Jensen left to start their own Isle on their own. And now that we finally have a full length video by which to measure the new creation from these London veterans, I think we will all agree (once you've all seen it as well) that they've respected their heritage and that Isle is as strong and incredible as the roots from which it spawned.
If you haven't noticed over the last few years there's been one very consistent trend in skate videos……they're crap. That sounds a bit more harsh than I'm intending. To be honest, I think that the watchability of most underground and indie videos has dramatically improved over recent years and video makers have found creative ways to turn their scenes, sometimes of even average skaters, into a highly entertaining video project. But, essentially, what I've noticed is that the technical quality of skate videos has diminished significantly over the years. I think that for decades skate video makers were trying to out-do one another with more and more impressive high quality motion graphics, higher-end cameras and overall more dramatic filmmaking. But nearing the end of the first decade of the new millennium it started to become apparent to a lot of filmer/editors that the quality was far less important than the overall vibe of the project. So, it has recently become very common for some of our favorite videos to actually have fairly poor filming, unimaginative titles and intro concepts or both. And very often when a video DOES have more professional camera work, titling and packaging, it's lacking in heart and spirit because it's usually a larger corporate project that feels disconnected from real street skating.
That's why the new Isle video "Vase" stood out to me more than probably any other skate video this year. Because not only was the professionalism of the filming, concepts and editing top notch but the skating and overall vibe of the project were equally as powerful.
We had the good fortune of being able to premiere "Vase" in a nice theater here in New York City last week, in a venue that allowed the viewer to be submerged into the video. A much different experience than watching an edit at home on a tiny Youtube screen. The theater was packed and the audience was vocal and loudly supportive of what they were seeing. One of the first things that struck me about Vase was the beautiful aesthetic that was being created from the moment it first appeared on the screen. By using 16mm b-roll imagery, the video very early on pulled me out of the theater and into the world that the filmmaker had created. Jake Harris and Nick Jensen worked together to seamlessly bring the visual aesthetic of Isle to life and it acts as a perfect match for the aged beauty of the London architecture which graces the background of nearly every skate clip in the video.
If you happened to see "The Eleventh Hour", another Jake Harris project, back in 2013, then you already know that Tom Knox is a force of nature on a skateboard. But his opening part in Vase is on another level. The talent that Tom displays in this part would be mind-numbing by anybody's standards even if it were filmed in the smooth schoolyards of LA. But instead, it seems like every spot is layered with the moldiest and roughest brick known to man. I can't say enough about Tom's part, or should I say "parts", so I'll just say that if it doesn't make it into the options for the video part of the year awards it would be a travesty.
Before this premiere, I honestly couldn't say that I really knew much about Casper Booker's skateboarding. I've seen a lot of photos but that doesn't really tell you much about a skater's style. So I was pretty surprised by his part because I felt like his style was pretty unique. Casper comes across as a big dude and I'd almost say his style is more athletic, if that makes any sense. It offered a nice balance to the rest of the video and his frontside smith grind on the bank to rail in Paris was enough to earn a seal of approval by this discerning critic.
With the massive amount of media we have to process on a daily basis, it's easy for some skaters to got lost in the mix. Especially if they live overseas and aren't in the center of the American skate industry. So, for a skater like Sylvain Tognelli living in obscurity in France, I often forget how talented the dude is and have to periodically be slapped back into recognition by one of his incredible video parts. "Make Friends With the Color Blue" and The Eleventh Hour" both offered up a heavy slap in the face. And now "Vase" comes back once again to remind me once and for all that the dude is not only good, but also can pick his spots very well and knows how to film a video part. I guarantee that you'll find yourself laughing aloud to yourself as the absurdity of Sylvain's spots flick by on the screen. It just isn't fair.
Probably the biggest surprise for me with "Vase" was Chris Jones. Chris's part is on a similar level to Knox's opening part and I'm sure that Jake Harris must've had a hard time deciding who got first part and who would close it out. I really dig Chris' style, with his arched or, should I say, hunched-back style really driving home how focused and determined he is as he approaches every spot. Something about his style kept me glued to the screen throughout every second of his part and there wasn't a single clip that let me down. I especially dug the little vignette of Chris skating tunnel spots. So fucking rad and it captured so much of what makes London skateboarding so unique. An ancient city with still so much left to discover. I think Chris' part was the right choice to close it out. And that damn wheelchair ramp ollie just blew my mind.
Finally, considering that I'm a diehard fan of the old Blueprint aesthetic and team, I was very much looking forward to seeing what Nick Jensen and Paul Shier, two former pillars of Blueprint would bring to the table. I know that Shier has had his hands full as team manager for DVS, running Isle from his home in LA and also recently having a baby daughter added to the mix. So I was hoping that he would at least have a small part and thankfully he didn't let us down. Shier is one of those rare skaters who's style would be unmistakable even if you were only to see his silhouette on the screen. So in my opinion he's a vital link who's presence helps add a touch of class and respect to the overall project. Likewise, Nick Jensen never disappoints and this part is no exception, some creativity and unique spot choices mixed in with his natural technical talent and finesse. And Nick's influence over the art direction of this video can't be understated because I would consider that aspect of the video almost as significant as the skateboarding. In my opinion a skate good skate video should offer more than just good skateboarding and Vase definitely delivered on all fronts. Beautiful cinematography, incredible diverse skateboarding, creative and imaginative titling and perfectly chosen music.
Barring any unexpected sleeper hit popping up in the next 4-5 weeks, I'm going to say that Vase is almost a guarantee to be my pick as video of the year. Jake Harris has handled the process of skate video making like the art form it deserves to be treated as and the result is nothing short of spectacular. In an era where everyone claims the death of the full length VX-1000 skate video, Jake and Isle have proven that it can still be done in an artistic and gripping manner. And at 31 minutes I think they managed to nail the perfect length, watchable in one sitting while still allowing enough time to grab the audience and pull us in to a whole other world. The world of Isle Skateboards.
Congratulations to the Isle team and Jake Harris for an incredible job.
(Below are some photos from Maksim Kalanep of the London Premiere)
Jake Harris needing some rest after the NYC premiere.
Out front of the LA premiere last night.