The Internet has destroyed many things that were once dear. Watching surf movies in a theater, with a bunch of frothing surfers hooting and hollering at the screen, the cherry glows from the joints flashing, the pungent smell of weed filling the air, the sheer exuberance of being alive and sharing a beautiful moment rising like a wave in a darkened cinema – it’s right at the top.
At least it is for me.
Those days are long gone. Surf movies have become increasingly shorter and are available anywhere, when you want them, and rarely seen in groups. They almost never try to tell any kind of meaningful story or reflect our culture as surfers back to us. This is largely because our culture has been atomized into a zillion different ways to be a surfer, but also because a sincere understanding of what it means to live and breathe as a surfer would be relegated as hopeless “curl” in day. Instead, we are inundated with a sea of Instagram clips, either too cynical to be funny or too commercial to have any substance.
But this week, if you’re in Southern California, you can relive a bit of what once made surf movie nights so damn special.
Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman’s classic 1972 surf film, Five summer stories, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in style. Beginning with a screening tonight at the opening of Coast Film and Music Festival at the iconic Hobie Surf Shop and closed the festival with a special 50th anniversary screening on Sunday, November 13, complete with a live performance by Honk, the band that played much of the film’s soundtrack. This concludes a screening tour for the 50th anniversary of the film that has been running across the country this summer.
Five summer stories is one of the two pillars of classic surf movie history along with the 1966s The endless summer. Take your pick – it’s a question of which is the best surf movie in history. But where The endless summer practically invented the concept of dirtbag surf travel, Five summer stories answered the question: what does it look and feel like to be a surfer? And it did so with absolutely stunning visual beauty.
MacGillivray and Freeman were talented filmmakers who had decided this would be their last surf film before they even revealed a single frame of the film, and they spent a relative fortune – around $30,000 – to make sure they did it right way. The superstars of the time were lined up: Gerry Lopez, David Nuuhiwa, Jeff Hakman, Nat Young. Better cameras captured surfing from angles that no one had really seen before. The production values are still pretty amazing, and at the time it pretty much blew away every other surf movie made for at least another decade.
From an interview MacGillivray did with Matt Warshaw in 2014:
“Jim and I had at that point done almost everything we felt we could do in surfing from a technical standpoint. Getting the camera in the water, riding a surfboard with a camera behind someone, working with really top-notch tele equipment and coming right up there so we could see water droplets as they flew away from Nat Young’s feet – those kinds of shots were really what we were trying to get. Make it look as beautiful and fun as it really is. Make it look as clean and fresh looking as it is when you’re actually out there. We wanted to convey the kind of excitement you get while surfing. A little glassy afternoon sitting out there with your feet dangling in the water was everything slowed down and here comes that one little pulse of wave energy. Or a perfect day where you’re pumped up, having the time of your life, surfing at your best.”
Yup. They beat it. I was born six years after this movie came out and started surfing when surfing looked very little like it did in 1972 and still this movie makes me happy and I’m proud to be a surfer. Very, very few things today can pull off that last part. The music is also great with local Laguna Beach rock/funk hybrid Honk performing much of the soundtrack, but The Beach Boys also gave MacGillivray and Freeman their music to use in the film for free. Imagine something distant like what is happening today.
The main event, Sunday 13 November, is ticketed available. Honk will be playing the soundtrack live, surfing giants like Gerry Lopez will be there to discuss the film and Greg MacGillivray will also be showing off his new book, Five hundred summer storiesa sort of memoir/photographic coffee table book about making adventure films over the decades.
And if you’ve never seen Five summer stories but for God’s sake can’t make it to the big show this weekend, see it here.