Film Review: Waiting For Lightning

July 6th, 2012 | 9:20 am | Features & Interviews | 9 Comments

Waiting For Lightning is part Danny Way biography, and part rationalization of how Way’s two decade-spanning career reached its current stage of “Evel Knievel stuntman shit.” The first half of the documentary operates as an Epicly Later’d-esque clip show narrated by Way’s family and friends, while the other is a two-month countdown chronicling the preparation for his jump over the Great Wall of China. The two stories gradually tie closer together, with the biography serving as a primer for the sight of Way skating over a manmade object once assumed to be visible from outer space. (It’s not, but still.)

In a way, the film has been in the making for over twenty years. It is directed by Jacob Rosenberg, who had met Way in the H-Street days, and filmed him for the company’s now-classic videos. Their collaborative relationship carried over to Plan B, and has continued ever since. Rosenberg took a deep dive into dusty tape boxes to provide the film with plenty of unseen archival footage and skate nerd trivia, touching on the Bones Brigade, Del Mar Skate Ranch, H-Street, Plan B, etc. in the process.

Trivia aside, Waiting For Lightning‘s interviews, the majority of which are handled by Way’s mother, brother, and several close friends (Way himself takes up maybe one-fifth of the time spent on interviews), tell stories of the relationships that helped him achieve each milestone in his career. His formative years were spent having to prove himself in the shadow of an older brother and his friends. The beginning of his skate career was under the guise of a supportive stepfather, a relationship that the film leaves somewhat unresolved (“People grow apart”), only to have it return in a profound way near its end. Plan B founder Mike Ternasky’s influence on Way’s ascent to stardom is also given a proper chunk of the story.

The big question surrounding Waiting For Lightning was how it would approach Way’s relationship with former H-Street teammate, Josh Swindell, or more specifically, his presence on a night in 1993 when Swindell beat a man (who by most accounts, was gay) to death and eventually received a 15-to-life sentence for second-degree murder. Way was never officially brought up on charges or suspected, but the rumor mill that is the skateboarding world has gone on about the incident to this day. The film had a chance to quell two decades of speculation. Instead, it frustratingly avoids the subject. There is a difference between a biography and a P.R. film, and when the more difficult-to-handle events of someone’s life are left out, the project begins to feel like the latter. Perhaps having the subject of a documentary and the documentary itself share a sponsor is not the best idea.

Halfway into the film, sometime around when Way jumps out of a helicopter into a vert ramp, Waiting For Lightning begins to feel a need to explain why Danny Way is Danny Way, which admittedly, is difficult to do.

During a post-viewing Q & A, Rosenberg was upfront in acknowledging that the film was made with a midway point between skate nerds and regular audiences in mind. Skateboarding is relatively new to the general public — these are the people who appreciate it in terms of how many spins someone does or how far they jump — and unfortunately, even Danny Way is not afforded the “great because he’s great” luxury that, you know, a Michael Jordan is.

As Way’s life story catches up to the Great Wall jump in the final twenty-five minutes of the film, it gets stuck in moments of heavy-handed narration and over-explanation, even resorting to the “Skateboarders see the world differently” line that seems programmed into every skateboard documentary in existence. To a skater, Danny Way is jumping over the Great Wall of China because, well, he’s Danny Way, and that’s what he does. To the casual viewer, he is doing it because “It’s the next step, he must push himself, and he must do it to progress his sport” (that’s not word-for-word, but the general idea), and to us (skateboarders), these overwrought statements from the narrators come off as proverbial subtitles for a language we already know.

It is hard to fault Rosenberg for having to “explain” the motivation behind Way’s achievements, because the film is intended to be seen by audiences who may not care about how H-Street became Plan B. The sight of a guy jumping 55 feet on a skateboard is unfathomable to just about anyone, but the levels of exposition required when it is being shown to a room full of people who have never ridden a board, versus those who know what it feels like to kick your own ass in an effort to land a seemingly meaningless trick are much different. Rosenberg is in a class of remarkably few who have transitioned from skate videography to feature filmmaking, and nobody gets there by making movies strictly for skateboarders.

Michael Jordan didn’t win six championships because he wanted to progress basketball, and Danny Way didn’t build and skate mammoth concoctions of wood and steel so that maybe one day, a 12-year-old could do a 1080. But if “progress” is the angle you settle on, so that your film about one of skateboarding’s greats and his most grandiose achievement could be seen by more people, so be it. To the film’s credit, it dwells on the selfishness of Way’s craft and skateboarding as whole, something outsiders often comfortably mistake as a grab for attention. By the end, you get the feeling that if there was a natural ramp over the Great Wall, and no cameras around or such a thing as professional skateboarding, he probably would have done it anyway.

In one of the film’s few lapses into (possibly unintended) humor, the designer responsible for the ramp over the Wall calls Way to tell him that due to an oversight, the gap is going to be 65-to-70 feet instead of the projected 55. “Is that too gnarly?” he asks. There is a pause. “No.” Another brief pause. “Nothing’s too gnarly.” Treat Waiting For Lightning as 90 minutes spent with one of the gnarliest human beings alive, and you should enjoy it.

9 Comments

Comment by b0bawesome
  • Did the documentary touch on how he got away with a murder?

    July 6, 2012 @ 10:08 am
  • Comment by Ripped Laces
  • Went to the premiere & realized Danny Way is not human. The slam he takes in China should’ve killed him. It was an incredible movie that everyone can see & relate to, not just skateboarders.

    Btw, that Chinese televised report about your “mandatory support” for Danny was incredible.

    July 6, 2012 @ 2:33 pm
  • Comment by Check ur facts
  • b0bawaesome – you need to check your facts. Danny was not charged based on the facts of what happened. You are not charged if you are not thought to be responsible.

    Ripped Laces: The Chinese TV report was a DC ad that was put together at the time and ran on the web.

    July 6, 2012 @ 3:28 pm
  • Comment by wooh da kid
  • Dway is a pretty big tool.

    July 6, 2012 @ 3:44 pm
  • Comment by b0bawesome
  • check the stats, check the racks

    July 6, 2012 @ 5:22 pm
  • Comment by Sharky
  • Do you think he is the first pro skater on roids

    July 7, 2012 @ 1:49 am
  • Comment by D(umb) C(unt)
  • As you mentioned, the film is PR as fuck. Total bummer the whole thing is just a plug for DC. Having dudes like Ken Block and that retarded surfer in it, only because of their affiliation to DC, was quite shit. Any regular person will, without a doubt, question the legitimacy of this as a doco. At the screening I attended, the non skateboarding (female), editor made a little speech, and it was clear she didn’t really have a clue. It was once again made apparent when half the classic footage in the film is cut half way through a trick, or used as filler over and over again.

    Regardless, the last 20 minutes or so that focuses on the Great Wall jump is pretty incredible. I gotta admit it was pretty insane seeing it on the big screen. Pretty badass that he just went for it the day before and fucked himself over.

    Pity about the whole murderous homophobe thing…

    July 7, 2012 @ 6:08 am
  • Comment by joel mcduffie
  • Hi world! I am a black skateboarder from vista,Californiao.g v.s.l crew. I’ve known Damon and Danny and mom Mary since Danny was 9 yrsold. My brother and I been skating with them for yrs. The nite of the party josh begged me to go. Tommy Caudill who is a lame was going. He’s a rascist. I seen subpoena on dannya counter then he showed me. I put droors,dc on map. Not ken block or Damon way. Danny ans myself. I pdid it with flowing rappers beastie boys and cypress hill. Damon and Danny ans me were the true invwnters not ken block. If anyone sees ken block ask him why did u so Joel mcduffie dirty Luke that after all hea done for d.c and droora. Ok 8ball clothing was kens company. Lame! True talk. Ask Danny or Damon or kwn. When u c Ebonics skateboards or Benjamin’s clothing u will b witnessing the true Vista,vsl and D Ways story. Stay tuned.

    September 6, 2013 @ 1:20 am
  • Comment by Tito
  • Danny was an accessory to beating a man to death because he was gay, but Danny’s family’s high priced lawyers got him off for cooperating (snitch)..

    the guy is a tool, a jock, a homophobe, a murderer, and a snitch.

    January 2, 2014 @ 4:17 am
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