Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

The Subject Face

To cut a long story short, Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap is a very personal documentary, although it doesn’t always announce it in the first place. When it becomes a conventional skateboarding film, the main character in the film becomes its main subject. On the other hand, they are skateboarders in that they express themselves through humor, athleticism, or tricks. Liu describes a point-of-view shot, with ground level being the camera, which always follows them.

A fisheye lens arrangement provides an interesting close-up view of what the audience is looking at. Thanks to Liu showing it off nicely at eye level, it reveals the face of the subject by interspersing the image with more conventional skate footage. Liu also shot the footage when he was a teenager, featuring Illinois and the same park in many of the scenes. The main characters in the film, Zack Mulligan and Keire Johnson, create the first effect of a personal and individual journey.

We will see those who are very young still skateboarding. However, most have grown thanks to the aesthetic trappings of their hobby. Now, they turn to other places to find other entertainment or simply to escape.

Nonfiction Skateboarding Film

In short, Minding the Gap is not just an ordinary skateboarding film. However, it serves as a general description of the awakening and daydreaming of youth. It’s thrilling to think about what it means to be free. Liu’s only hope is to collect enough footage to put together a montage of gnarly stunts. In the good times that were happening, he first started filming his tight-knit crew around their hometown.

Of course, he never imagined transforming a decade’s worth of matter. It became a deeply personal statement about what it means to grow up in America. When other marketers want a short sentence, the answer they want usually predetermines the work. They will always be faced with the question of what the film is. In promoting a film, Liu’s answer to such a thing is never too easy.

It’s not that his vision for the films he’s produced over the years has gone wrong. Rather, it is because of the complexity. Not to mention the insistence of the audience and critics on sorting films into neat categories that bring additional hope. Clearly, they explained the definition of a film. Such subject matter is also of interest to a new boom in nonfiction filmmaking.

Repressing the Conflict

Furthermore, Minding the Gap only adds to the pressure to achieve social goals. As so many skateboarding movies do, the first shot opens up a group of friends slowly carving their way. They appear to have left through the streets; the mist of summer at the height of happy midday prompts them to go for a trick. They don’t just hang out in all the usual places; they do tricks too. Every day, their spare time provides an opportunity to stake a claim on self-expression.

They come from households where they witness various kinds of social conflict. Besides that, the film’s revelation moment didn’t come in a very brightly lit interview session. Rather, it is through an interaction between the director and his participants. Until adulthood, we see the various traumas that follow them. Despite it being uncomfortable for neither Zack nor Keire, Liu’s damaged relationship with his mother also becomes a participant.

He encouraged his two closest friends, forcing himself to act as an active participant in his subject’s life. To share thoughts about mental health, adulthood, or masculinity, their memory becomes very repressed. Kiere once recalled when his late father disciplined him. In the modern era, many people would call it child abuse.

Creating Myth

The missed details of the beating Keire suffered make sense to other audiences. Regardless, it would be pretty simplistic to say that Minding the Gap didn’t become a skateboarding movie at all. The exploration of how a cycle can spread to every human relationship is left alone. Over time, Liu’s focus sharpened on trauma and family. From here, the film develops into a personal story involving the filmmaker.

Together with Liu’s friends, his moving camera always follows its subject. However, the story does not depend on just one narrative. It also doesn’t just depend on what the film can say about what happens in the film. While the children grew up together in an American city, Liu also doesn’t present them as if they were independent of the context of family or friends. Despite not being groundbreaking, Liu endured the kind of creation myth that always informs a biography.

In such a case, there are many documentaries where the characters move, filling in detail after detail. Unlike the film, Liu doesn’t even actually make the implicit statement that Steve James strings together in Hoop Dreams. In the film, the audience sees a juxtaposition of footage of William Gates’ life in a housing project in Chicago.


At the end of Hoop Dreams, James draws the correct conclusion about poverty and social inequality in America. In Minding the Gap, such a revelation occurs when Liu notices that many kids in the skateboarding community struggle with uncertainty. Aside from anxiety, it always acts on impulse. He just sat down and asked them about their experiences. As a result, they began to open up to him about everything that was going on with them.

The engraved backdrop is a light portrait of a broken knee into an intimate portrait of a bruised soul. Patterns of family absence or strict parenting were the main highlights of Liu’s attraction. He increasingly became more interested in the experiences of his two best friends. Including himself, it’s about how they deal with harassment or violence in their homes. When Liu visited one of Rockford’s skate shops, he spoke with the shop’s owner, Eric.

He is a middle-aged man who is repairing Liu’s old boards. Eric tells him that skateboarding means more to Liu than being cool or having friends after reminiscing about his teenage years. Symbolically, the film does not refer to the physical distance between the two surfaces. However, it serves as an emotional leap that young people hope for on the journey to adulthood.

Defining the Montage

In short, Minding the Gap is very extraordinary in proving that maturity is not directly proportional. We understand that they all grew up when Liu chose to make films without absolution. They become the working class in the broken cities of the Rust Belt. Liu also provides such context without further ado beyond a short montage of archival audio. It tells a story of post-industrial economic collapse and high unemployment.

About a quarter of the time, films do not depict clear causal lines. Gap doesn’t seem to care about defining a solution. It also defines a social problem. Liu, in the final scene, is a Chinese-American. He tells Keire that his story with his late father reminds him of his own. When hopeless empathy is almost taboo, it holds throughout the film. Likewise, when it comes to Zack, he becomes unraveled during filming.

Liu interviews his estranged mother and confronts her about her abusive ex-husband. With hope, she can explain the history of violence in her household. Such a moment reveals to Liu, as well as the audience, that adults are just as wrong as children. They just don’t want to have all the answers, though they may not necessarily bring the closure Liu is looking for either.


While viewers may question whether skateboarding is truly an escape for Liu himself, he also says that skateboarding is not a panacea. Just as Keire was once on the verge of a mental breakdown but made skateboarding an escape, such a formal documentary trick can help us escape from the present. The film is much more antagonistic when it comes to answering the questions, though it doesn’t gloss over the past or ward off the future.

In the first shot, Keire and Zack skateboard on an empty street as the sun sets. They grinned breathlessly, glistening with satisfaction. Brutal testimonies of the abuse they suffered always followed them as children. The negative consequences they will face as adults begin to emerge. When life can simultaneously have joy that we can’t deny, then the film is honest about its subject.

With just two or so steps, no matter how ugly the place seems to us, we only understand that they don’t lead an uncommon life. On the other hand, they can be anywhere, and the same applies to parents who are cruel to their children. For one reason or another, we have studied Liu’s motivations for making a film.

Underneath and Unreliability

Liu saw it as he revealed what was underneath. Such a turn completes the counterintuitive in torturously violent detail. While it has shaped his life, it leaves us free to see his true subjects: Zack and Keire. They become individuals who are fully formed from the abstract symbols that other documentaries give to the audience. Liu’s presence in it is so strong that it has the casual subjectivity of our daily conversations.

Due to the inherent unreliability of the setting, the interactions between the filmmaker and his subjects are not always completely natural. Both Keire and Zack turned directly to the camera to express their anxiety about existence. Fixed gaps look a lot more honest than empty conventions alone. Liu simply wants us to believe that none of the subjects filmed by the director were aware of the camera.


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