The Endless Summer (1966) ^ This is the granddaddy of all surf movies. Writer / Director / Cinematographer Bruce Brown spent a year following two young surfers as they traveled the world in search of “the perfect wave.” What it lacks in budget and sophisticated camera work, it more than makes up for in charm and innocence (just before the film ends, Brown’s voice comes in and thanks you for watching his movie). No film has better romanticized the carefree, laid-back attitude of surf culture. If you need further evidence of its greatness, know that this is every surfer’s all-time favorite movie, and that it did nearly as much as the Beach Boys to popularize the sport the world over. Brown released “The Endless Summer II” in 1994, and it was a better looking, but less engaging film.
Blue Crush (2002) ^ This movie took a lot of flack upon its release for its simple, predictable plotline (will the surfer girl overcome her fears to win the big contest?), but that storyline isn’t so clichéd as to be distracting, and to focus on it is to miss the film’s true pleasures anyway. Simply put, no movie has better captured what it is like to actually surf. Director John Stockwell puts you right on the board, in the barrel of some of the biggest waves on the North Shore, and when a character wipes out, you are right there – it’s truly frightening, and it sheds a light on the dangers of the sport as no other film has. The movie also provides an interesting glimpse into the Hawaiian culture of young surfers, without corporate sponsorship, who work minimum wage jobs in the state’s tourist industries so they can make just enough to pay the rent and keep on surfing. Approaching the story from a woman’s point-of-view is an interesting angle too, as this has been a male-dominated sport until recent years. The cinematography and the snappy editing are breathtaking, and the beautiful, spirited cast gives the film an irresistible energy. The soundtrack, complete with a rap version of Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” and the best song Lenny Kravitz ever recorded, is the ultimate in fun, bouncy beachgoing music (it rarely leaves my CD player between May and August).
Step Into Liquid (2003) ^ Bruce Brown’s son Dana carried on his father’s legacy, releasing this inspirational documentary more than three decades after his dad’s “The Endless Summer” set the bar so high. Brown expertly balances some gorgeous, gasp-inducing surfing montages with a series of portraits of people around the world who’ve found life’s peace in surfing. We meet a disabled man whose loyal friends make sure his injury doesn’t mean his retirement from surfing, a group of Irish Protestant and Catholic youth who find common ground in their favorite sport, a man who has surfed every single day for decade after decade, and a host of surfers who prove that “the surf is where you find it,” including a group that surfs the wake left behind oil tankers off the coast of Texas. Fast-paced and fun, the film is also surprisingly often quite resonant and moving.
Billabong Odyssey (2003) ^ At about two minutes in, this documentary about the subculture of Big Wave Surfers (as the label suggests, these are the nuts who go out to the middle of the ocean in stormy conditions to hunt down the elusive 100-foot wave) hits you with perhaps the greatest single shot in the history of surf cinematography. Starting close in on pro surfer Mike Parsons riding a wave, the camera, attached to a helicopter, pulls back, and back, and back, revealing one of the biggest waves you’ve ever seen a surfer on. It’s truly ridiculous, and makes this film worth a rental alone, but what follows is an equally entertaining look at the science and technology of the sport, as well as the background and drive of these monster-wave riders.
Big Wednesday (1978) ^ “Apocalypse Now” / “Conan” scribe John Milius, an avid surfer, wrote and directed this look into the lives of three surf buddies between 1962 and 1974, and their anticipation of the arrival of “Big Wednesday,” the day of the largest, most incredible surf conditions. The movie can be a little overly serious at times, dealing as it does with the loss of innocence in America during the Vietnam era, but it’s one of the few films to capture surf culture with a social and political agenda, and it’s one of the few to be set in the Southern California community, as opposed to the more frequently portrayed Hawaii. And it co-stars a pre-insanity Gary Busey!
Thicker Than Water (2000) & The September Sessions (2002) ^ If you are familiar with platinum-selling recording artist Jack Johnson’s music, then you will find that his films are exactly what you’d expect – more relaxed and looser than the average surf film. They are certainly the closest in content and structure to “traditional surf films” (see description above) of any movies on this list, but where most surf films are constructed as hard-rocking displays of adrenaline, Johnson’s movies are slower and more hypnotic. And proving that his eye is as sharp as his voice, Johnson has captured some of the most beautiful black and white surf footage ever.
The Morning Glass (2001) ^ Jack McCoy’s seventeen-minute dreamscape is both the most obscure and trickiest-to-find title on this list. Tucked away as a special feature on the DVD release of his higher-profile but inferior film “To’: Day of Days,” this nearly wordless hallucination takes you beneath the waves, to witness world-class big wave surfer Laird Hamilton bodysurf the inside of a wave. The Tahitian waters are crystal-clear, the soundtrack is beautifully composed, and Hamilton’s short musings on the color, density and silence of the water help to cast the space beneath the ocean’s surface as another world entirely.
Time to Back Talk>>>
Posted on April 14, 2004 in Features by Dustin D. Morrow
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- SURF CINEMA
- RIDING GIANTS
- SURF FILMS HIT MIDDLE AGE: PART 1
- “THE SURFER KING” RIDES DISTRIBUTION WAVE
- SURFING, BEER AND FLICKS – ALL FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS
Popular Stories from Around the Web