I've never been a surfer (I never lived near the sea, which didn't help), but I've always had a thing for surfing films and surfing culture. I love the excitement of seeing people riding the waves, always on the brink of being wiped out. I also love the laid-back attitude usually demonstrated out of the water and the music synonymous with the sport/pastime. The most famous surfing movie is probably The Endless Summer, which has somehow passed me by all these years, despite my interest in the subject matter. So you can imagine my excitement when Second Sight announced they'd be re-releasing the classic documentary on Blu-Ray with all the spit and polish and special features you expect from their releases. Added to this, they have released director Bruce Brown's later documentary, On Any Sunday, this time focussing on motor biking. I must admit I hadn't heard of this before reading the press release, but it sounded good, so I thought I'd make my Endless Summer review a double bill. My thoughts on the two films are below.
The Endless Summer
Director: Bruce Brown
Screenplay: Bruce Brown
Starring: Robert August, Michael Hynson, Lord James Blears, Bruce Brown (narrator)
Running Time: 91 min
BBFC Certificate: E
Bruce Brown had been making surfing documentaries since the late 50s, but it wasn't until The Endless Summer in 1966 that his films, or any surfing films for that matter, hit the mainstream (the film was actually finished in 1964, but it didn't get a worldwide release until 2 years later). After showing the skills of some Californian and Hawaiian surfers in the first 10 minutes or so, The Endless Summer shifts focus to follow Mike Hynson and Robert August as they embark on a year long tour of beaches around the world, in a bid to experience the titular 'endless summer' (i.e. being on a beach during summer time all year round by travelling across several continents). Along the way they bring surfing to people who have never experienced it before and try to find the 'perfect wave'.
The film managed to live up to my expectations thankfully, although I was a little put off at first by the film's presentation. By that, I don't mean the surfing footage, which is as great as I'd hoped and I'll talk about later, but I mean in how the film is constructed. I expected interviews with surfers and more of a modern style of documentary, but it actually follows a more classic format where footage is supported by only voice-over narration and music. This simple approach took a short while to get used to, but luckily Brown (who provides the narration himself) is a great speaker. He's very good at explaining the skill involved in what we're watching on screen as well as filling us in on the surfers' backgrounds, particular styles and the current locations. He also injects a great deal of humour into the film, which I wasn't expecting. This, when added to some pre-planned goofing around by the surfers or sped-up footage, can be a bit silly at times, but it keeps the tone light and prevents the film from getting dry.
Also keeping the film from getting dull and repetitive is the central premise of following Mike and Robert on their world tour. This allows for a travelogue aspect to the film, which I enjoyed a great deal. You get to see several different countries and experience their individual cultures. The African and South African trips were particularly illuminating and enjoyable, although, in the narration, some stereotypes were played on a little too strongly by today's standards.
The biggest draw is the footage though. The surfing is captured brilliantly, particularly given the equipment available at the time. Lightweight cameras were still relatively new back then, but Brown makes great use of them. He shoots from a distance for the most part, using a telephoto lens, but now and then you get some shots taken on the water, including some thrilling on-board footage, decades before GoPros became the norm. Brown understands surfing and knows what looks good and it's a genuine pleasure to watch the talented sports men and women on display. He makes great use of the sun-kissed locations too and I longed to be on the trip with the guys.
One aspect I found a little disappointing though was the music. I enjoy a bit of surf rock and I'm a massive Beach Boys fan, but the soundtrack here leaned more towards the cheesier early pop-60s style that I'm not too fond of. There are a few good tracks here and there and the main theme wormed its way into my head, but I found a lot of the music rather dated.
Overall it's a film that may be dated a little in terms of how it's presented then, but once you accept this you're in for a treat. The visuals are hypnotically beautiful, showing off the skills of some great surfers as well as the sights of some gorgeous locations. It has more focus and momentum than I expected, due to the 'endless summer' concept, and more humour due to Brown's charming personality, so is a lot of fun to watch too. It's simple in terms of form, but works by charting an idyllic journey around the world and documents is so beautifully that you feel like you're there or want to be at least. It made me desperate to hit the road and some waves.
On Any Sunday
Director: Bruce Brown
Screenplay: Bruce Brown
Starring: Steve McQueen, Malcolm Smith, Mert Lawwill, David Evans, Bruce Brown (narrator)
Running Time: 89 min
BBFC Certificate: E
After the success of The Endless Summer, Brown decided to turn his cameras towards a different sport. According to the IMDb, his next film was The Incredible Pair of Skis, but little information is given on this and his next big success was a documentary focussing on motor bike racing, called On Any Sunday. Motor sports enthusiast Steve McQueen co-financed the film and appeared in it.
On Any Sunday looks at the wide range of motorcycle races taking place around the world (largely the USA) and the riders who take part. In particular, it follows Mert Lawwill, a biker who's trying to defend his number one title in the Grand National Championship during a season filled with mechanical problems, and Malcolm Smith, who rides in a variety of different races and tournaments.
Like The Endless Summer, On Any Sunday follows the straight forward format of having Brown narrate over the footage. There are a couple of brief interviews here though, taken from sports TV programmes and I believe more location (or post-produced) audio is used compared to in the other film. I was prepared for the style this time around, so it didn't bother me and once again I enjoyed Brown's detailed and knowledgable narration. Again this isn't without humour and we get a few goofy comedy moments, although a little less than in The Endless Summer perhaps.
Once again, the footage Brown has captured is fantastic. There's a lot of slow motion photography used, which looks great and offers a detailed look at some of the skill involved as well as some brutal crashes. Supposedly, Brown wanted to use high-speed cameras to get this footage, but couldn't afford it. Instead he improvised by using 24-volt batteries in the 12-volt film cameras, resulting in a makeshift 'budget option' high speed camera. A helmet camera is used occasionally too, once again predating GoPros by several decades. I can't imagine how big and heavy this must have been for the rider.
There's less of a core narrative here, with the GNC title race featuring largely just in the early and closing segments of the film, but On Any Sunday never feels dull or repetitive. The huge range of motorcycling styles on display keeps things interesting, from motocross racing, to ice racing, to an annual hill climb. Each and every one is thrilling to watch in its own distinct way and Brown effectively explains what the riders must do to win.
Once again I found the music a bit naff, with the cheesy main theme used far too often. You'll find yourself humming it for days afterwards though.
This is a minor complaint about a wonderfully enjoyable and often quite exciting documentary though. I actually liked it a fraction more than The Endless Summer, which I didn't expect, though both are great. So, I'd recommend everyone to pick up both like I did. They make an excellent double bill.
The Endless Summer is available now as a Limited Edition Deluxe Box Set in dual format as well as a standard case Blu-ray and a standard case DVD, released by Second Sight. On Any Sunday is available on DVD, on-demand and download in the UK, released by Second Sight. I saw the Blu-Ray version of The Endless Summer, which looked soft, but this is down to the 16mm source material. It's clear of damage and colours come through nicely though. Audio is solid too. The On Any Sunday DVD looked and sounded decent, although again it's a little soft due to the nature of the original footage.
Special features for The Endless Summer:
- Introduction by Bruce Brown
- The Endless Summer Revisited – feature length documentary
- Directing The Endless Summer – New interviews With Bruce Brown and Dana Brown
- Producing The Endless Summer - New interview With Bob Bagley
- Surfing The Endless Summer - New Interview With Mike Hynson
- Bruce Brown Timeline
- Artwork From Around The World
Collector's limited edition features
- Special packaging
- Dual format
- Art cards
Special features for On Any Sunday:
- On Any Sunday Revisited – feature length documentary
I must admit, I haven't had chance to watch the two 'revisited' documentaries in their entirety, but they look like wonderful additions, offering plenty of extra previously unseen material from the original shoots and those of the films' sequels. The interviews included with The Endless Summer are decent too, offering some insight into the production and reception of the film.