It’s an age-old practice but the ongoing mystery surrounding how and why sneakers end up on power lines around the globe always seems to confound the casual observer. Matthew Bates and his team of investigators are hoping to crack the code to this enigmatic folklore. We first ran into Matt and his quest way back when Sneaker Freaker first hit cyberspace, and just like the crusade to find one’s own holy grail, Matt is determined to find out why this tradition continues to thrive. Using a truly interactive media outlet, the team are inviting all sneakerheads to record a wide variety of opinions with their ‘Mystery of Flying Kicks!’ documentary. We flung a dung with Matt and got deeper into why and how this film is being made.
Hey Matt, how did the idea of sneakers on power lines tickle your fancy enough to create 'The Mystery of Flying Kicks' documentary?
There’s something intriguing and beautiful about a pair of sneakers hanging on a telephone line. I like the image of a shoe that was made to exist on the ground, being stuck in the air. When I went to New York and San Fran I got really obsessed. I spent the entire time looking at the skies taking photographs. When the SNKRFRKR site first started, Woody ran an advert for me where I asked people for theories. I got loads of insane stories from all around the world. I’m a doco filmmaker so it was a natural thing to want to turn these stories into a film. The theories of why this happens are so bizarre, from gang murders to drug dealing to mafia symbols to art to complete randomness. All the great movie themes! I should say now that I haven’t made the film yet, I’m publicising the film back to front because I want people to help me make it by contributing videos, photos and by leaving messages on our Skype hotline, so it’s an experiment in filmmaking in a way.
This seems like a huge task in getting one solid answer, how do you propose to do this?
I don’t think there’s one simple explanation and that is why it's great material for a film, it's open ended. I am setting out to try and uncover some truth, but I know I cant ever get the whole truth, but that grey bit in between is the most interesting part. Humanity is desperate for answers to everything, even meaningless shit, and in some ways THAT is the real mystery. The film will also look at how and why urban myths like these spread. If you search the web you will find hundreds of blogs, images, Flickr groups, news stories and so on, all wondering why sneakers appear on telephone lines. It's funny how once a legend may have taken a thousand years to create and now they spread overnight like a self-perpetuating virus across the Internet. I wonder how much the net has contributed to flying-kicks appearing around the world. Is it a giant case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’ or is there a real meaning? I think it’s both. I know for a fact that some people just toss kicks up for a laugh but I also saw George Gittoes amazing documentary ‘Rampage’ recently, which showed a young rapper who was murdered, have his sneakers tossed over the lines outside his house by his brothers as a tribute to him. On one hand you may say it’s a myth and on the other there is evidence that it has incredible meaning. So to answer your question I’m using the net to make the film, to research, to hook up with people, to gather material and theories and stories and to try to explore the subject a bit deeper through the film.
Who else are you collaborating with? We noticed you have a video featuring Bobbito Garcia!
Normally when you make docos you travel and meet people. I’m trying to use the net to make a film without leaving my chair. So for instance I wrote to this French guy who I had read about online, and he had been hanging with Bobbito Garcia in NYC covering the street ball scene. I asked him to donate some footage he had shot of New York and Bob playing basketball. Then I emailed Bob and he agreed to an interview on the phone, which I combined with the video footage and some of my photos and that was that. Perfect example of making a collaborative film without leaving your studio! And that’s the way I want to make the whole thing.
I’m also working with a great guy from New Zealand Geoff Budd, who was featured in SF a while back with his Sole Intentions photographic exhibition. He and I have had a similar obsession and we are collaborating on this project. He hooked me up with his pals SKEWVILLE in NYC, who are shoe-tossing artists. These guys are incredible, and have this whole idea of shoe tossing being ‘next levelism’ – taking street art to the next level. I’m also interviewing Dee Welles from Obsessive Sneaker Disorder this week. Dee runs the only radio show in the world dedicated to sneakerheads (check it out!). I’ve been harassing dudes on You-Tube and begging them to send me footage of them tossing up a pair which has also worked well. I also just teed up an interview with an English professor of semiotics who will rap about flying-kicks being a cultural meme (google that one folks)…
The political side of this story is quite interesting, taking for instance from Wikipedia which states ‘the Arab world where shoe flinging is a gesture of extreme disrespect. When U.S. forces pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, many Iraqi detractors of Hussein threw their shoes at the fallen statue. The shoe represents the lowest part of the body (the foot) and displaying or throwing a shoe at someone or something in Arab cultures denotes that the person or thing is ‘beneath them.’’ How do you feel about this practice and will you be exploring the political views on this subject, or is that just getting too heavy?
Yeah I’ve read that story on Wiki before and it’s interesting. But with the political angle I want to look at is this idea of the hanging sneaker being a symbol of urban ghettosim. The former mayor of L.A James Hahn, choreographed a news story where he cut some kicks off a line from a cherry picker as a symbol of his ‘Teamwork LA’ program. He thought that by taking shoes off the powerlines he was helping solve the social decay of L.A and would therefore be re-elected. It’s strange how a tossed sneaker has become so symbolic, even the last Simpson’s movie showed flying-kicks as Springfield fell into ruin! Or even funnier was the recent schlock news story about Shappelle Corby, which had a shot of sneakers hanging outside her Mum’s house, which pretty much told the viewer she was a dealer. You can see how it’s become this potent symbol of social decay that can be used and abused by anyone.
Why do you think then it is so important for you guys to get your film out there?
I like the idea that a sneaker hanging on a line has so much potential meaning and at the same time the potential to mean nothing at all. It’s Zen. It’s an open-ended symbol that taps into all the great themes of sex, death, art, drugs, sneakers, what more could a filmmaker / sneakerhead want?
You’ve made a point of making Flying Kicks truly interactive with anyone able to contribute. Tell us how we can get our voice heard and submit our own anecdotes on sneakers on powerlines?
Yeah this is a film made by the people for the people. We really want people to call our free and anonymous Skype hotline and leave a recorded message on our message bank. If you SKYPE us at flying-kicks then we want to hear your theories or stories or insane ramblings from your part of the world. These recorded stories will then be used as an audio collage in the film. Also if you have art, photographs, written stories, motion graphics or video or whatever you want then just visit our ‘contribute’ section on our flying-kicks.com site and let loose!
Do you have a proposed date for the premiere and will it only be launched in Australia or are you looking for an international release?
The film will be launched in Australia early next year before taking on the rest of the world. I think it will be a great festival film, so we’ll be hitting up all the major international fests as well as posting extra bits that don’t make the film on our website. Geoff Budd and I are thinking about a book / DVD package as well so who knows it may even end up on your bookshelf. Stay tuned…