Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
The 1966 film The Devil’s Toy documented the city’s skateboarding culture—and those who feared it.
Made in 1966 by Claude Jutra, the film’s narrator speaks in an alarmist tone about the hip new activity striking fear in the squarest of adults. Tongue firmly in cheek, he refers to it as “a dreaded disease which needed only pavement to multiply and proliferate.”
Justra, whose film is dedicated “to all victims of intolerance,” interrupts a satirically dramatic shot of teens charging down a neighborhood on their boards with a demonstration on how skateboards are designed and used. Another skateboarding montage is then interrupted by the cops, who confiscate all the boards they can get their hands on.
Banished to an indoor rink, the skateboarders try their best to have fun to no avail. “The battle was won,” says the narrator. “For the moment, we are safe.”
Fifty years later, things have gotten a lot better for Montreal’s skateboarders. As recounted by Jake Russell of VICE, skateboarding culture in the city has helped revitalize a troubled public park as well as a piece of outdated infrastructure from the ‘76 Olympics. The city has also, pending an update to Quebec’s Highway Safety Code, legalized skateboarding on city streets.
As for The Devil’s Toy, its legacy lives on: Last year, the National Film Board of Canada put together an interactive “redux” project, with directors from around the world making their own short films based on Jutra’s seminal work.