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That over 1,000 people a year are killed just for their sneakers is but one of the many disturbing revelations of David T. Friendly and Mick Partridge‘s documentary about a subset of obsessive consumerism. Chronicling the cultural influence of sneaker collecting over the last three decades, Sneakerheadz is a film to which you’ll want to wear your best kicks.
For those viewers (myself included) relatively unfamiliar with the phenomenon which started in 1984 with the introduction of Nike’s seminal Air Jordan, the documentary will come as a revelation, albeit one that is more than a little disturbing. It relates how sneakers became an object of obsession that coincided with the rise of hip-hop — Run DMC’s “My Adidas” helped fuel the craze — and the growing integration of sports into pop culture. Teenagers of all races flocked to stores to procure the latest sneakers, ultimately leading to a trend of limited edition, customized models whose initial releases sometimes led to riots. In an effort to reduce the violence, manufacturers shifted their release times from midnight to 8 a.m., since the early-morning crowds proved more docile.
The film includes interviews with star designers including Frank “The Butcher” Rivera and Jeff Staple as well as such celebrity fans as comedian Mike Epps and the rapper Wale. But the most eye-opening segments involve those collectors suffering from what is sardonically labeled as OCD, or “obsessive consumption disorder,” who strive to own not one but several pairs of each new release. One man — with obviously too much money and time on his hands — proudly shows off his mammoth collection housed in a specially-designed room even as his eye-rolling wife comments that he has a “disease.” NBA star Carmelo Anthony is seen in a clip from a television interview in which, when asked how many pairs of sneakers he owns, he responds that he stopped counting after 1,000.
The rise of the Internet only fueled the phenomenon even further, as collectors no longer had to travel and wait in line but could simply make their purchases with a few computer clicks. Not surprisingly, several of the hard-core sneakerheads lament the change that helped level the playing field.
While the film mainly profiles the subculture with an air of bemused affection, it doesn’t neglect its darker side. One of the more powerful segments is an interview with the mother of a teenage boy who was killed while being robbed of the Air Jordan tennis shoes he had just purchased. She went on to found the organization Life Over Fashion.
With subject matter so esoteric that an onscreen glossary is provided, Sneakerheadz will leave you shaking your head even as the showcased colorful footwear inevitably induces sneaker envy.
Production: Friendly Films, Jump Films
Director-producers: David T. Friendly, Mick Partridge
Screenwriter: David T. Friendly
Executive producers: Christopher C. Chen, Andy Friendly, Michael Finley, Stephen P. Rader, Wale
Director of photography: Paul de Lumen
Editor: Steve Prestemon
Composer: Rick Marotta
Not rated, 70 min.
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