So it’s been a while hasn’t it? Well I’m here to say that this site is back on, and so is this column, so long as there are movies to be seen.
I’m gonna break the rule of this particular series and dispense with the real-life double bill concept. If I can find two films that played on a bill together and review them as a set, I will, but “Double Bill Delights” will more or less be about congruent films. Films of great similarity that compliment and supplement one another.
As a writer, I’ve had a bit of a fixation about sun, sand, and surf lately. I’ve got scripts, story outlines, and pitches, all hinging on the promise of waves of blue and beaches of gold. Maybe it’s having lived in the clammy and cold Northeastern United States for all my life, or maybe it is the tanned fantasy of Southern Californian living I’ve come to admire and explore in the films I’ve watched and in my own work, both for the silver screen and the written page.
Our first double bill back on the block is devoted to two very special little films that address the “surf” angle of this equation. Documentaries from admirers and practitioners of the art of riding the waves, wherever they may be. For two special men from Southern California, “wherever” includes a long, exciting trip around the world.
The Endless Summer (1966)
Seasons change all over the globe, different seasons occurring at different times. For the surfer, summer is the go-to season. Simple as. And if one had the time and money to do so, it is more than possible to follow that season across the globe, keeping up with the warm weather as they find the coolest of waves.
For professional surfer Bruce Brown, this was the challenge he sought to capture on film.
Having made four surf pictures previously, as well as highlight reel Water-Logged in 1962, director Brown’s pièce de résistance rode ashore in the summer of ’66 for all to see. Absurdly charming & tremendous in scope, The Endless Summer is a classic tale of Mike Hynson and Robert August, two SoCal surfers and surfboard shapers who go on a trip around the world, making landfall in seven countries across both hemispheres, all in search of good waves during Cali’s off-season, thus enjoying an “endless summer.”
With Brown’s informative yet humorous narration, the impeccable location cinematography, and the film’s infectious soundtrack, provided by surf rock group The Sandals, one could easily argue that Endless Summer is the perfect film to introduce anyone to surfing as a hobby. Obviously it’s not instructional in nature, but Brown slips in enough of the fundamentals alongside his playful sarcasm that even novices can learn some of the basics just from viewing it.
A true indie smash at the box office, making $20 million against its meager $50K budget, the film no doubt struck a chord with both the surfing public and the public at large, with an excellent vibe coursing through the white-capped excitement and globe-trotting fun. And with such a rousing success on display, it no doubt inspired plenty of filmmakers to take a cut of the surfing pie, such as the folks behind our next film.
Follow Me (1969)
I’m gonna give it to you straight: the perks and drawbacks of diving waist-deep into obscure cinema are many. On one hand, there’s the mere it-factor of discovering the film at all. On the other, sometimes that makes it hard to talk about the film when there isn’t much to say. Fortunately, we’ve got some choice names involved in this one.
Follow Me is a tale of three young surfers, Claude Codgen, Bob Purvey, and Mary Lou McGinnis, looking to bring the fun of surfing to parts elsewhere as “the Surf Corps.” Travelling to six vivacious locales, they ride the wild surf of the world and get to know the locals of each destination. The film is a basic, unpretentious little affair that manages to slip in moments of experimental style and pure atmosphere alongside sincerely lovable scenes of our intrepid trio and their wholesome and largely respectful interactions with the folks in each nation they visit.
Follow Me is fabulously photographed and set to a summery soundtrack (provided by Stu Philips of future Knight Rider and Battlestar Galactica fame) full of Italo-lounge and latter-day surf rock, without losing a sense of pace and professionalism thanks to its director, Gene McCabe. While the name maybe Greek to the layman, he isn’t exactly a complete unknown.
McCabe, like Brown, is a documentary filmmaker, with a particular preoccupation with racing culture. He made the films Hot Rod Action in 1969 and The Hot Rod Story in 1965, both now obscure artifacts of their time. He even produced a teen picture for American International, the 1966 Beach Party spinoff Fireball 500. In fact, it is these racing ties that most likely explain how he netted Hot Rod Magazine founder Robert Petersen to produce Follow Me.
McCabe’s style is equal parts slight psychedelia and natural photography. He and his team know how to capture the action and then enhance it for the audience, heightening the sensations and imagery of this trip around the globe. The end result is a sort of teenaged cinéma vérité, a sunbathed reality tinged by the aesthetics of the day. But at the end of the day, what counts is that it is fun. It is a journey with likeable subjects and a sweet airy feel throughout. If you can find the DVD at a reasonable price, it is most definitely worth snagging when you can.
For yours truly, the surf film is a unique breed of documentary, one that isn’t reliant on cold objectivity or hard-hitting analysis. It’s about capturing the energy and spirit of the sport and conveying that to the audience. It’s about being able to feel the cool of the sea, the freedom of riding the wave. And to that extent, The Endless Summer and Follow Me achieve that aim to the letter. They are sun-tanned love letters to the sport, starring fine participants and backed up by a crew who are able to bring that excitement and affection to the audience with great ease. In short, both come highly recommended.
Feels great to be back, don’t it?