Friday, June 11, 2010

Eight Surfing Movies

Lets be honest, there are no really good narrative surfing movies. There are definitely surfing documentaries that are really good. But most fictional surfing movies are fairly cheesy in one way or the other. I think it all depends on your point of view. ( I went to college, you see, its all about how you VIEW things, man) I grew up around the beach, my brother surfed. I mean he wasn't a big wave rider or anything, but I am familiar enough with the ocean and the power of its waves that I find surfing pretty fascinating. So one could look at surfing movies through that lense: most, of the better ones, offer amazing scenery and perhaps some amazing surfing footage, thus are their reason for existing. Then they try to wrap some narrative around the surfers or the surfing itself. Thats just how these things work (thank you, screenwriting, 101-I am sure that was what Chekhov was talking about when he talked about the gun. I am also sure that reference is correct) So, back to me, I sort of grew up around it, and am also fascinated by it, even though I have never done anything past boogie boarding. But there are no good boogie boarding movies. So here are some good (or "good") surfing movies when it is a rainy day and going to the beach is just out.

I notice now that most of these are pretty recent. Despite my dad's predilections for Annette Funicello, I have to admit I don't think I have ever watched any of those late '50's-early 60's beach movies with Frankie Avalon. Although, their return to the genre is listed here.

The Endless Summer (1966)

I don't know how much of a "real" documentary this actually is. But as a small slice of life, in a very specific niche, in a very specific time period-its pretty amazing. It feels like hanging out with a stereotypical surfer-very laid back and easy going. And it just follows two surfers around the world as they search for "the perfect wave". They venture to all sorts of out-of-the-way places around the world, and it looks beautiful. It makes you want to drop everything and follow the around.

Big Wednesday (1978)

Directed by self-described zen-fascist, John Milius. This actually comes from a more personal place for him, it seems growing up he was quite into the whole SoCal surfing scene. "Big Wednesday" refers to the mythical day when the best waves ever come, a day that, in the movie is sort of talked about in hushed tones. And, for the first time on this list, here is Gary Busey. A young Gary Busey before he completely lost his mind. This is funny, not haha funny, because all three leads, including Busey, but William Katt and Jan Michael Vincent all seemed like, at the time, were being groomed for bigger stardom which, for whatever reason never came. Anyway, here surfing is the backdrop and the way the friendship between the three leads develops and becomes close. Its a coming-of-age story, where people have to grow up, and unfortunately being Milius and the sixties, their particular friendship gets tested by the intrusion of Vietnam into their lives. "Big Wednesday" itself represents a return to when their lives were much more carefree.

Back To The Beach (1987)

Now this is truly goofy. Much like, apparently, their movies were back in the 50's/60's. This is actually an enjoyable piece of fluff. Although I haven't actually seen this in a while. My Dad, of course, too me to see it when I was ten, the night before school started (I forget which year of school that would be) Its amiably goofy and fun. But I mean look at that picture. Its so weird, thats Annette Funicello with Fishbone. Pee Wee Herman shows up to sing a song for like 5 minutes then leaves. Its strange, but as a weird sort of double time capsule, its worth checking out, I mean there are worse things to watch on a rainy afternoon.

North Shore (1987)

I would say something like "Only in the eighties!" but this could almost ALMOST happen in any decade. This, of course, is the story of some dork from the midwest who wins a surfing competition in a wave pool and gets sent to Hawaii to...I don't know, compete maybe? Anyway, he bums around and meets and lives with the local surf "guru", Chandler. Who takes him under his wing and teaches him the difference between "soul" surfers, people who do it for the love, and the people who just do it for the money and the fame. I am sure this bit of philosophy was suitably mindblowing when I was ten. Of course there is the villain, and a colorful cast of surfers that he hangs out with along the way. And the ladies. Building up to a big climax where he has to finally prove himself.

Point Break (1991)

Kathryn Bigelow's original magnum opus. Point Break, maybe along with the third Die Hard movie, now seems like the last gasp of the eighties action movie in its truest form. I can't help it too: this thing is beyond ridiculous but it is so entertaining. Patrick Swayze (R.I.P.) the zen leader of a group of surfers turned bank robbers (SPOILER!) ups the ante from his turn in Roadhouse as this surfer who spouts all this nonsense philosophy, usual about some nonsense like "the ultimate rush". Incidentally, he also waxes philosophical about a mythical storm that surfers follow around that is supposed to have the best waves of the century, or something to that effect. There's Gary Busey again, overacting up a storm. And of course, Swayze's nemesis, Keanu Reeves, as Johnny Utah, the college football player turned FBI agent, who infiltrates the game. It really the apex in nutty action movies.

Blue Crush (2002)

This combines Big Wednesday and North Shore. Except, its three girls living in Hawaii, and one is a former champion surfer trying to regain her standing so that her and her sister and her friends can finally make some money. And there is a hunky football player along the way-romantic complications! Yeah, I mean, as far as quality goes-its not very good. But like I mentioned before the scenery and the surfing scenes are pretty amazing. And I guess the producers really thought they were turning things on its head making it about girls instead of boys. An entertaining trifle, lets say.

Riding Giants (2004)

Directed by Stacey Peralta, who also spearheaded the awesome skateboarding documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys. Amazing documentary, both in the stories and the footage, about the ultimate thrill as far as surfing goes: the people that ride exceptionally huge waves.

Surfwise (2007)

Another really amazing documentary that, while it involves surfing, is more about family, and more specifically, how one's upbringing gets them ready or doesn't get them ready for the rest of their life. How does your childhood effect you and in what ways? This documentary follows Dr. Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz, his wife and their nine children. They live "off the gird", they are all homeschooled, and they are raised, in a sense, outside the boundaries of "normal" society. They all live in a small camper and just go from beach to beach learning and living off the land. I have to admit, its really fascinating. Its also fascinating in the questions its raises: such these kids basically are raised with no boundaries, which in and of itself is intriguing. But not having gone to school or learned to function within society, as they get older they basically have to learn or relearn all these things that the average person has figured out. Such as not having gone to any school, is really a crutch if you wanted to be an EMT person. Its is really interesting and definitely worth a look.

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