SXSW Film Review – Sneakerheadz
If things had gone a different way, I could have very well been a subject of David T. Friendly and Mick Partridge’s Sneakerheadz (2015). As a kid I played sports, particularly basketball. When I entered high school, I got into break dancing. In both areas, what you wore on your feet worked as a function of your craft and as a representation of who you are. For years I wanted to get the Adidas Shell Toe, the classic all black sneakers with the three white stripes. And when I finally did, I felt complete. I still wear them to this very day.
I never got to the level seen in this documentary, though. Shedding light on a culture of footwear, Friendly and Partridge delve into the intricacies that make up a collector’s obsessive-compulsive nature regarding shoes. Sneakers blew up in popularity in the late seventies and early eighties through a combination of sports and hip-hop. When Michael Jordan released his name brand sneakers and Run DMC rocked theirs without the laces, it created a phenomenon that reached beyond boundaries. Athletes that wanted to be musicians, musicians that wanted to be athletes, and the regular fans that wanted to be both – they could get the sensation of being a part of a larger group all because of what was on their feet.
With infectious energy, Friendly and Partridge skip through the history of sneakers at a brisk pace, focusing more on the culture of the modern “Sneakerhead.” A long time has passed since a collector had to travel miles to find a pair of shoes they heard about through word of mouth. Because of the emergence of the Internet, the shoe business has become global. Instead of having to go on a hunt, fans can visit numerous websites and easily pick out whatever’s to their heart’s desire. For some of the older interviewees here, the convenience of the Internet has taken the magic away from shopping for shoes in person. I imagine it’s the same feeling music aficionados have regarding vinyl versus digital media.
This is a fun documentary, even if it only covers a specific kind of materialism. The topic is not hard-hitting in the way politically motivated or wartime documentaries are, but that’s ok. For anyone with a mild interest in this field – and let’s face it, no one walks around entirely barefoot – this might be surprisingly insightful. Some of the interview subjects left me confused, however. Much is made of the influence of Michael Jordan and Run DMC, but sadly they are left out. I can understand why pro skateboarder Rob Dyrdek would be included, because he’s made a successful side career with his own brand. But people like actor/comedian Mike Epps or rapper Wale come from left field. Neither is linked with the business other than being hardcore fans. Their presence feels shoehorned in only because they’re famous.
When designers, sellers, and business people talk about the shoe game is when I was most engaged. Frank The Butcher, Elliott Curtis, Jeff Staple, and Dave Ortiz are just a few of the entrepreneurs that have made a living off of sneakers. You can hear the passion in their voices. In one sequence, we discover that there are courses taught on how to be a successful Sneakerhead. Of course, we have scenes of people showing off their massive collections. These aren’t just closets; we’re talking rooms, buildings, warehouses full of boxes. It’s comparable to the hoarder mentality. I know a few collectors myself, and by their logic one must have three pairs of one shoe: one style to wear, one to keep safe, and one to sell. That’s intense.
For as much fun as this is, it does delve into darker areas. In particular, it examines the criminality that comes with shoe exclusives. When limited edition sneakers come out late at night – with people waiting in long lines to get them – it creates higher demand. Because of the exclusivity in the way new shoes are rolled out, it can lead to hysteria. Footage of people trampling over one another when a store opens, news reports of people getting shot over Air Jordans, and people literally getting mugged for their shoes adds a unsettling tone. We don’t get much more than just a quick glance at this, however. I wanted to learn more about what is being done to prevent these crimes from happening, and get a deeper understanding at the societal and psychological reasons that cause them. Unfortunately, the documentary doesn’t go that far, rather settling more on the positive aspects than the negative.
I enjoyed Sneakerheadz if only because I can relate with the subject at hand. It’s clean, well paced, and works as an introduction for new fans and a reinforcement for existing ones. It might be a finely made commercial urging you to go out and buy some new shoes, but it’s a commercial I had good time watching.