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July 13 – August 4, 2017

The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun:
Psychedelic Surf Films, 1966 - 1979

“You might be in there for only a few seconds—in real time—but in your head it goes on for hours, it is an experience that’s hard to describe, riding inside of a big, grinding wave. Often you’re riding so deep inside the tube, you don’t make it out. You take a terrible wipe out. What matters is when you’re in there, it’s the time interval when you’re inside the wave. Time enters space, a zone of its own. The only reality is what’s happening right then.” – George Greenough

For many, the surf film genre began with wholesome depictions of beach parties, beach blanket bingo, and surfing à la Frankie Valli, Gidget, or Jan & Dean in the late 1950s. The best-known Sixties surf documentaries are those by filmmaker Bruce Brown, particularly his magnum opus, The Endless Summer, which chronicled a worldwide adventure by two west coast surfers in search of the perfect wave. Yet the world of surf films is wild and dense—stretching all the way across the Pacific.

Generated in the wake of the countercultural, antiwar, free-loving Sixties—and its subsequent swells of disillusion—an environmentally conscious back-to-the-land movement evolved. However, those longing to get away from the cities and live a more natural, do-it-yourself lifestyle were not all retreating to the country. Surfing as a sport and lifestyle spread throughout coastal communities around the beaches of Hawaii, California and Australia. By the late 1960s, surf films like Albert Falzon’s Morning of the Earth and Crystal Voyager were documenting this phenomenon in an extraordinary way. The films’ cameraman–surfer and filmmaker George Greenough–was responsible for both the invention of the modern surfboard fin and the first shots taken from inside the waves courtesy his infamous custom kneeboard. Greenough’s own film work, including The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun,beautifully captured the new shortboard revolution, wherein surfers built their own lighter, faster, custom boards that provided great mobility and changed surfing forever.

Many of the films in this program feature stunning psych-rock soundtracks, such as G. Wayne Thomas’ brilliant scores for both Morning of the Earth and Crystal Voyager, which also include music by Pink Floyd. Pacific Vibrations, John Severson’s classic, has been called “Woodstock on a wave” for its jam-packed soundtrack of famous 60s bands.

At the heart of all of the films in this program is an underlying message about the sanctity of nature, a DIY spirit and the desire to create a world of one's own. The renewed interest in early surf culture perhaps stems from a resistance to the commercialization, corporate sponsorship and rampant consumerism in both surfing and society as running contrary to the sport’s humble beginnings.

We are thrilled to present these rarely seen films at the Harvard Film Archive, where we will kick off the program with an outdoor screening and party on the Sert balcony, complete with a live instrumental surf band. – Jeremy Rossen

Special thanks: Steph Carter and Sean Bridgeman—the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Albert Fazon, George Greenough, Scott Welsh, David Elfick and Harold “Wardie” Ward.


Preceded by Sert Gallery reception and performance by Plutonians at 7pm
Thursday July 13 at 9pm

Crystal Voyager

Directed by David Elfick
Australia 1973, 35mm, color, 78 min

After the unexpected success of Morning of the Earth, Albert Falzon and David Elfick were able to secure funding to make a second film. Crystal Voyager was written and narrated by eccentric American surfer and filmmaker George Greenough, who had previously made the 1970 surfing film The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun and pioneered the earliest surf film footage from the water. Structured as a loose biography of Greenough and predominantly shot in California, the film focuses on the trials and tribulations of Greenough as he attempts to finish making his 37-foot ocean-going yacht "Morning Light," which he intends to use to find uncrowded waves while sailing along to the melodic soundtrack by G. Wayne Thomas and the Crystal Voyager Band. The shots of Greenough building his own sailboat display an astonishing level of DIY fortitude and inventiveness as he constructs the boat in his backyard with simple tools. The closing sequence of Crystal Voyager incorporates Greenough's short film Echoes, and is staggering in its beauty. Filmed with a camera in a waterproof housing strapped to Greenough’s back, the sequence is composed entirely of slow-motion footage shot inside the curl of waves, edited to the song "Echoes" by Pink Floyd. At this moment, time and space cease to exist, as Greenough becomes one with the wave in a blissed-out, never-ending wave. Print courtesy the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

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Friday July 14 at 9:30pm

Morning of the Earth

Directed by Albert Falzon
Australia 1972, 16mm, color, 79 min

Shot in 1971, Albert Falzon’s first film reveals the revolutionary and pioneering spirit of Australian surfers who took the sport to a radical new level. Morning of the Earth is a fascinating portrayal of the then-emergent new age hippie lifestyle. Barefoot and homeless, the few surfers who embraced the back-to-the land lifestyle lived for nothing but surfing and communalism. Morning of the Earth captures the surfers in their natural element,living in spiritual harmony with nature, making their own boards (and homes) as they travel in search of the perfect wave across Australia, Bali and Hawaii. The film is noted for documenting the first surfers to ride the waves on the very southern tip of Bali. Falzon, who learned filmmaking in the Australian Army before working for Australian Surfing World Magazine in the mid-1960s, deftly merges an array of dissolves, fades and slow-motion into his documentary style.

While influenced by the travelogue form of Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer and David Elfick’s Crystal Voyager, Morning of the Earth replaces voiceover with music that integrates the episodic narrative. G. Wayne Thomas’ soundtrack enhances the sense of a harmonious union of humanity and nature, as well as the sense of total freedom experienced far away from civilization’s compromises and complexities. As spectacular as the surf footage is, it is the ecological theme of living in harmony with nature that is the film’s enduring legacy. Print courtesy the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

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Saturday July 22 at 9pm


©HaroldWard

The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun

Directed by George Greenough
Australia 1968, digital video (orig. 16mm), color, 92 min

George Greenough chronicles the beginnings of the shortboard revolution as it evolves in 1968 in California and Australia, highlighting the radical shift that forever changed the style of surfing. Greenough, along with fellow surfers Nat Young and Bob McTavish, challenged the idea of how a board should look, feel and measure. They accomplished this by designing and building their own boards and fins, and, in Greenough’s case, by riding on their knees on shorter “spooned out” boards. These modifications led to amazing bursts of speed and control, and a new surfing technique emerged. Greenough pioneered the use of a custom back-mounted 16mm camera rig, which enabled him to both film and surf. The film concludes with a heroic scene of Greenough riding his kneeboard in and out of the wave, camera on his back, in a blissed out moment where he becomes one with the wave. Capturing a revolutionary transition at its birth, The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun is exactly as the title suggests, a landmark surf film of epic proportions. Print courtesy filmmaker.

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Saturday July 29 at 9pm

The Endless Summer

Directed by Bruce Brown
US 1966, 35mm, color, 95 min

For many, The Endless Summer is the most well-known and important surf movie of all time. Bruce Brown's iconic documentary takes young West Coast surfers Mike Hynson and Robert August on an epic around-the-world jaunt, including the coasts of Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii, as they seek the perfect wave. They eventually find it on a then-unknown break off Cape St. Francis in South Africa, now one of the world's most famous surfing sites. Brown's narration is lighthearted and witty, and his footage perfectly captures the camaraderie and pure joy of the sport. Featuring a melodic musical score by The Sandals to propel the surfers forward in their journeys, The Endless Summer in many ways is the ultimate carefree summer film, as well as a goodbye to the longboard style of surfing, as George Greenough and other Australian surfers were soon to demonstrate. Print courtesy University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

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The screening of Pacific Vibrations has been cancelled; Dalmas will show instead.
Friday August 4 at 9:30pm

Dalmas

Directed by Bert Deling. With With Peter Whittle, Peter Cummins and Max Gillies
Australia 1973, digital video, color, 103 min

Initially about a former cop attempting to track down anarchistic acid dealer "Plastic Man." Rollowing a lead, his trip takes a psychedlic turn upon his arrival at a seaside commune. The fictional framework of crime melodrama dissolves, and the camera reverses its gaze. The story transforms into a documentary about the crew, the communal tribe, and the shared experience of drug use and making a film.

Preceded by

Bondi

Directed by Paul Winkler
Australia 1979, 16mm, color, 15 min

Taking its title from the very popular Sydney beach, Bondi was made by Australia’s foremost independent filmmaker Paul Winkler, who used surreal in-camera matting to divide images of the beach, water, sky and sand into alternating horizontal bands.

 

 

 

 

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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700