Monday, October 15, 2012

30 in 30 - Day 15: The Endless Summer

I knew this movie would have some unique aspects to it when I decided to put it on my '30 in 30' list.  First of all, it's old....filmed before I was born, I knew that there would immediately be an air of simplicity - both in the way it was put together and within the footage itself.  Second, the fact that I pretty much never watch movies that old.  Sure, there are some flicks that stand that true test of time, but most of them do not hold up.

But I think the most unique aspect of this selection was that it might just be the best known "sports documentary" (and I use that term fairly loosely) that I have never seen. I can no longer say that.

Tonight's film - The Endless Summer

The Endless Summer (1966)
95 mins.
Rated: PG

"The crown jewel to ten years of Bruce Brown surfing documentaries.  Brown follows two young surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave, and ends up finding quite a few in addition to some colorful local characters."  (source: imdb)

Link to the film - I watched it online via Youtube

I'll start by saying, I don't know a lot about Bruce Brown.  But he seems like quite an interesting fellow.  His delivery, humour and laid back tone really makes this movie a relaxing trip.  But it does lend itself to some ridicule and eye rolls.  Not sure which one stands out more.

The music really sets the tone off the top (and plays a role throughout the film).  Vintage, relaxing and wanting me to just sit back and enjoy the ride.  The slow montage of beauty shots sets the mood.

When the surfing music kicks in, so does the most unique voiceover I've ever heard in a doc.  Bruce Brown himself lends his vocal abilities to narrator.  I guess it's a good thing in that he has the most intimate knowledge of the footage and the story, but it does have a unique feel to it.  And some of his jokes are super-corny.

We get an introduction to surfing in Hawaii and California.  We see both what surfing is like in the 60's as well as the production value we will find throughout.  Remember, this movie was shot over 45 years ago now.  Equipment was definitely not what it is today.

We are introduced to two young men - Mike Hynson and Robert August.  They will be the surfers we follow around the globe as they try to find the best surfing around the world.  They want to "follow summer" as it hits in other areas outside the US - the endless summer.

What I found interesting early on was that it was wall to wall voiceover - no interview clips, no natural sound from the locations.  It was all canned audio, music and voiceover.  At times it got boring, but the consistency made me stay with it.  It felt like an old episode of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.  Just some guy talking about stuff.

The first trip is to Africa.  Of course, before they go they must pack.  A great moment of 1960's "stuff".  The transistor radio is my fave.  Upon arrival, they meet the locals.  This was a nice way to break up an hour and a half of surfing.  And in Africa, they did a great job of including the African kids who had never seen surfing before.

In fact, not only did the kids never see surfing before - nobody had.  The waters that Mike and Robert rode were the first time anybody had tackled them.  That's a pretty neat piece of info.

In Cape Town, the crowd came out - over 100 surfers to tag along with the pair.  The differences from one location to the next really kept things fresh (as fresh as you could.....after all, they're just surfing).

In addition to the locals, they also came across a number of different animals (I knew it was Wild Kingdom time).  When the boys hit Johannesburg, they found themselves the perfect wave.  Perfect size, perfect speed, perfect length.

This was the one area that I don't think was captured as well on camera as it needed to - speed.  These guys were booking it at times, but I never really got a true sense as to how fast they were going when "hanging ten".

Some great footage was shot when a surfer decided to film as he was on the board.  These point of view shots really looked impressive (and I could only imagine the impressiveness of them back in the 60's).

To Australia and some unlucky times.  Perth, Melbourne and Sydney all had less than desirable surf conditions.  But Bruce Brown did a nice job of keeping the story moving.

And what a way to get people out of the potential lull that showing them footage of some huge waves.  Some pretty amazing footage of spectacular rides and tremendous crashes.

New Zealand was the next stop and again showed off some unique sites and surf.  From there, Tahiti.  Everybody said there would be no waves because of the barrier reef that cuts off the waves.  The resulting crystal blue water is impressive in itself.

The boys did find some pockets of waves and pulled out the boards to surf away the day.

Returning to the US (Hawaii) gives a natural end to Mike and Robert's summer tour.  As the movie ended, it made me think of how simple this trip was.  Simple in the sense that it was a couple of guys just searching for surf.  Not a single care in the world.  Just the optimism of finding waves and meeting locals.

We should all be so lucky.

As I mentioned, this doc was all narration.  Not a single voice other than Bruce Brown's in the vo booth.  It was a surprising approach as I never would have considered it.  The music, pace and easy going subject really gives a relaxing feel to a very "dream like" tour.  The editing, while choppy at times, keeps the stripped down look both intimate and playful.

Does the film stand up to the test of time?  I think of it more as 'timeless'.  The film is distinctly 60's (the vehicles alone hit that home run), but a trip like this could occur in today's world without question.

An enjoyable, relaxing watch.

3.5 out of 5

Here are some other reviews I found online for the film...

Rotten Tomatoes

Roger Ebert

Slant Magazine

Next up - Michael Jordan: To The Max


  1. The voiceover was definitely unique. The jokes were definitely corny. And there was A LOT of surfing. Well, its a surfing doc, so what did I expect, I guess. And since I'm not a big surfing fan, then maybe that hurt my experience.

    I didn't enjoy it as much as you. I can appreciate what they did back then (making the doc), but it doesn't hold up to me. I got bored about half an hour in. The surf shots just looked the same, place after place. I couldn't help but wonder how much better this film would be if it were shot today!


    1. Yeah. There was a lot of surfing. But I was surprised at how engaged I became in the film.

      I did find myself checking the watch a couple of times but that died off.

      I think of they tried to film this movie these days it would totally fall flat. The fact this film was made in the 60's lends to it being able to transcend the test of time.

      Brown actually did a sequel. The Endless Summer II was made in the 90's and follows the same path as the original film. Looking at snipits I was far less engaged. The style was totally different.

      I'm as surprised as you are that I liked this film as much as I did.