MEDIA MONDAY: GLEAM! THAT! CUBE!
It’s time, everybody. It’s time for us to gleam the cube! You know what I mean. Actually, you probably don’t. You may not get the reference. It is a reference that only serves to amuse people who are into skating or movies. Or, frankly, who are into both of them. It’s the kind of reference you make to show off your skills and your knowledge. You’re trying to get a laugh. Because, in case you were not aware, in 1989 they made a skateboarding movie starring Christian Slater. That movie is called Gleaming the Cube.
Gleaming the Cube is, in short, a completely insane phrase. It seems like a joke. It feels like the kind of thing some 50-year-old would have written in 1991 to make fun of skateboarders. Or worse, I would think it was a phrase that made sense for a “cool” skateboarding teen to say. Have you ever watched Saved by the Bell? You know how it is so clear that it was written by rich men in their fifties who had been in sitcoms for years? Everything either felt like a reference from their childhood or seemed completely made up to somebody who was actually a child in the early ‘90s. That’s what “gleaming the cube” feels like to me.
And yet, it has a smidge of lore to it. As legend has it, the phrase comes from a 1983 issue of Thrasher Magazine. Garry Scott Davis asked Neil Blender if he had ever “gleamed inside a cube” and somehow that phrase, which was nonsense even then, lived on enough to become the title of one of the very first skateboarding movies ever. Evidently, if you have the DVD for Gleaming the Cube you can watch a secret short feature called What Does Gleaming the Cube Mean? which is actually pretty cool. Nevertheless, the phrase is insane. Even if it had a clear meaning and had actually been a part of skating’s lexicon it would be nonsense. Which, of course, makes me love it. Who doesn’t want to say “gleaming the cube” as a joke? Who doesn’t love a nice, obscure pop culture reference? I wrote a book about the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000. This is my wheelhouse. Apparently, the titles A Brother’s Justice and Skate or Die were also considered. The latter would have worked, I think. It also would have robbed us of Gleaming the Cube.
Although, it must be said the movie is the only sort of about skateboarding. It’s as much a murder mystery thriller as anything else. Christian Slater plays a 16-year-old skater who is having problems in life. He’s an old-school movie skater, which is to say the skating was in part to show that he was a rebel adrift in the world. Then, his adopted Vietnamese brother is murdered as part of a larger conspiracy. Of course, he has to figure out what happened to his brother.
If you don’t recall, Christian Slater was a big deal around the turn of the decade. Just the year-earlier Slater had co-starred in the cult classic Heathers. This was supposed to be part of his rise to stardom. Instead, it was a total flop. If not for the weirdo title, nobody would remember Gleaming the Cube. Early in his career, Slater’s acting style was basically ripping off Jack Nicholson. The idea of a young actor doing a Nicholson impression while playing a skater feels like a weird collection of tics and quirks.
That being said, there is something cool about this movie for skateboarding enthusiasts. For starters, a lot of famous skaters were in the movie as extras or stunt skaters. We’re talking dudes like Mike McGill, Rodney Mullen, and Mike Vallely. Oh, and a couple of youngsters who were members of the Bones Brigade had roles in the movie as members of Brian’s group of skateboarding friends. Literally, one of them is named “Buddy.” Oh, and he’s played by Tony Hawk. That’s right. Tony Hawk is in Gleaming the Cube. The man has gleamed cubes! He also works at a Pizza Hut in the movie. One more notable name from the movie? I mean, other than character actor Ed Lauter? Christian Jacobs, who would go on to be the frontman of The Aquabats and to create Yo Gabba Gabba
Like I said, Gleaming the Cube was a flop. That’s both critically and commercially. And yet, when you’re talking skateboarding movies, you have to mention this one. Not just because it stars Christian Slater. Not just because it’s maybe the only skateboard-heavy murder mystery. But primarily because, lest you forget, the movie is called Gleaming the Cube. It’s still a delightfully bizarre movie title all these years later. For 30 years, we’ve been making jokes about Gleaming the Cube. We will never stop.
Oh, by the way, do you want to watch Christian Slater and Tony Hawk talk Gleaming the Cube many years after the fact? Good news: You can! Just watch the video right here. Afterward, you may feel like you too can gleam inside a cube. It’s the dream of all skaters. Apparently. It still makes no sense to me.
Watch the full movie: