Inspo with Thomas Campbell

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Thomas Campbell is still inspired by the raw power of The Stooges. Here he films skater Javier Mendizaba at the Derby Bowl in Santa Cruz, Calif., for his new film, "Cuatro Sueos Pequeos."

Thomas Campbell -- famed painter, photographer, filmmaker, record-label owner and founding member of the bi-coastal "Beautiful Losers" movement -- has a new 16mm movie coming out this November called "Cuatro Sueños Pequeños" ("Four Small Dreams"). His first collaboration with director Fred Mortagne ("Menikmati," "Cliché"), the movie stars skaters Javier Mendizabal and Madars Apse as they skate internationally through a series of bewitching and surreal scenes.

"It took around a year to make," says Campbell, who previously directed expressionistic skate and surf film classics like "A Love Supreme" and "Sprout." "Everything, even when it ... seems like it's not, is collaborative. I just always try and make something better [than I made] before. I think, honestly, if something isn't difficult or doesn't feel extremely challenging, you're probably not doing something very good."

In addition to his own feverish creativity, Campbell, it should be said, is also quite well-known for encouraging skateboarding friends, acquaintances and colleagues to pursue their own artistic dreams. Artist/pro skater Ed Templeton, for example, recalls Campbell finding some paintings tucked into a closet and encouraging him to start hanging them where people could actually see them. Likewise, Campbell sent Patrick O'Dell photographic supplies when he was still in high school.

"Jason Jesse said I introduced him to The Clash," Campbell says with a laugh. "But I don't remember that. And I actually probably didn't. But he said that."

With the release of "Cuatro Sueños Pequeños" close at hand, we thought it would be an opportune time to ask Campbell about the sources of his own inspiration.

A little punk

As a 13-year-old resident of Dana Point, Calif., a small Orange County coastal town 60 miles southwest of Los Angeles, Campbell busily acquainted himself with the Reagan-era punk bands rising like so many cacti in the region's desert heat -- TSOL, X, Channel 3 and Black Flag, to name but a few.

"Inarguably there was a really amazing punk-rock scene in L.A. and Orange County," said Campbell of those formative years. "At the time it was so vital. So I was like, 'I hate everything except for this music.'" During this fertile period, he spent time skating a spot in the woods called "The Subaru Ramp" (named for its proximity to a car dealership), attended numerous concerts and forged an identity as a fan of hardcore.

But Campbell, restlessly creative even then, was never destined to remain in a single isolated cultural space for long.

Courtesy Thomas Campbell

As a filmmaker, Campbell is as focused on mood and atmosphere as he is on athletic derring-do. Madars Apse, kickflip, "Cuatro Sueos Pequeos."

Lost in the "Funhouse"

By ninth grade Campbell began branching out. It was while trolling through the bins in a Laguna Beach, Calif., record store that he came across an LP called "Fun House," The Stooges' second album.

The 1970 proto-punk classic (No. 191 on Rolling Stone magazine's "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time") is a masterwork of sonic urgency that Campbell, more than three decades later, still cites as a key influence and says led him away from punk's at times oppressive emphasis on ideological purity.

"When I heard that [album], I was just like, 'Wow.' It just felt really uninhibited and cosmically channeled, but in the most brutal way," says Campbell. "Everything else seemed kind of formulaic, in a sense. With that record it just seemed like creatively and expressively there were no limits."

"Punk rock, for me, was never something that was limiting," says Campbell, recalling listening to The Doors in a similarly rapturous state. "I was like, 'Wow, these guys are totally punk too.' And they're also so punk [that] they'll use any kind of music, from flamenco to jazz. I started asking, 'What is punk'? Punk is not actually something that is confined. It's something that is expansive."

Campbell named a wide array of influences, ranging from alternative-rock luminaries Sonic Youth and French new wave cinema to earlier pro-skater artist types like Tod Swank and Neil Blender. Still, once Campbell entered the Funhouse, he never entirely left.

"Being a little kid and a skateboarder and feeling like an outlaw and coming from a really conservative family, there were all these dichotomies," he says. "That album was just pushing into the extreme expression of, like, angst and sexuality. And that was highly relatable to me back then, and now, as far as pure expression. People ask me, 'What are the things that have really inspired you?' I would say that particular record."

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