2015 may go down as the year of the surf film.
Three releases captured our attention and didn't let go until the credits rolled. Blake Kueny's View From A Blue Moon, Volcom's Psychic Migrations, and Kai Neville's Cluster are three exquisite examples of surf cinematography, but which is the best amongst the three? I have seen all three titles both in theaters and on my dirty laptop screen, but I decided to watch them all in succession to see if I could pick the best one. Here’s what I came up with.
Kai Neville's fourth film deviates away from his wildly popular session-based movies to part-based. Cluster benefits from that format because each surfer gets to add individualistic flair set to a song that fits their style.
In movies like this, everything builds towards the climax of the closing section — which just so happened to belong to Noa Deane. Considering the caliber in Cluster’s roster, this was an extraordinary honor for the Australian anti-hero. Noa certainly didn't disappoint. His acid drop is still being talked about despite the film premiering back in January.
This is where Cluster stands out amongst the others. Courtney Love for the closing section? Angst! Creede's pirouettes to David Bowie and J-Bay to N.W.A? Goosebumps! The goal of every surf film is to get the viewer excited to paddle out. Cluster's soundtrack alone accomplishes that.
Following the public disaster of Strange Rumblings at last year’s Surfer poll, it felt untimely to have so many shots of middle finger salutes and cigarette smoking. At the world premier in Los Angeles, Noa went sober and blushed awkwardly to the crowds chants of "Fuck The WSL," which sort of fit the movie's ideology as the antithesis to competitive surfing. I'm all for getting wild and unruly, but all the booze and nicotine in Cluster's B-roll just didn't sit well with me.
Surf films are made to be enjoyed more than once. While some movies might be mind blowing on first viewing, a movie can only be great if you can watch on repeat for years to come. As the title suggests, Cluster exists as a collection of moments and because of this, it's easier to skip around and enjoy your favorite free surfer's section. Audiences attention spans are getting fragmented these days and Cluster capitalizes on that.
View From A Blue Moon
Last time John Florence and Blake Kueny got together to make a film, it broke a record for the highest number of sales for an action sports segment. They certainly had tremendous amount of hype to live up to, but this film surpassed expectations and then some. My only wish was that they rolled the film out differently — View From A Blue Moon is good enough to be playing in IMAX theaters around the world and not just on MacBooks, especially considering that the movie downloads in 1080 HD and not in its original 4K.
John reasserted himself as the best surfer in the world. The Brazil section fell a tad flat but that's only in comparison to the other all killer no filler sections. His brother Nathan also had remarkable moments, most notably the wave at Chopes that landed him on our cover.
You could play this movie at a house party and hips would be twisting to Glass Animals and head banging to Motorhead. Kueny's editing prowess had the beat dropping at the best moment throughout every part of this film.
The shots between the action were equally as enjoyable as the surfing. It was the sort of footage that truly captured why as surfers we are so incredibly blessed to do what we do. It's the setting in which we surf in that makes our lives so special. The aerial footage is a pleasant reminder of that.
This movie makes you shut up and watch. While it has only just been released for home viewing, something tells me that living rooms around the world will be paying homage to this movie for years to come. But it lacks in the storyline. It doesn't have the depth that three years in the making implies. Just Add Water made me an instant fan of Clay Marzo as it gifted a tremendous insight into his life which I didn’t' feel like I received from John here. View From A Blue Moon does as the title suggests, giving you pulled back view of John's world without ever stepping foot on it.
Ryan Thomas told a story with visuals and music alone, axing the narrator while still accomplishing its purpose. Plus, the aesthetic of film gave the movie the nostalgic feel that we have grown to love.
The Academy Awards uses experts to dissect films to pick a winner. Dane Reynolds seems well versed enough to us, "New vid from Volcom is dope. Why does film still look sicker than 4K red shit? I mean both are sick but you just can't replicate the feel of the real deal." We assume that Dane's pick would be Psychic Migrations over View From A Blue Moon.
Ryan Burch deserves a standing ovation for his part in Chile. Parker Coffin's tube wrangling in the Mentawais during the swell of the century was hands down heroic — especially when you consider that he nearly drowned to get those clips. The section that I constantly find myself coming back to is Mitch Coleborn's and his taming of the most haunted wave in the world, but the entirety of the Volcom team put out brilliant performances. The film finishes on a high note with Yago Dora’s sensational combos in Indo and Puerto Rico.
A symphony of psychedelic sound – the music of Psychic Migration matches the rise and fall of action perfectly. There wasn’t a single song in the track that I've heard before, which shows that Ryan Thomas took the time to really hunt down the tunes.
Here's where the movie stands out amongst the others. The shot of the fresh water river merging with a brown stream was poetic. The plate of sea glass and shells grew as the action did. The portraits were perfectly done. That rock though! Ryan Thomas made a stationary piece of granite appear important and beautiful, which is a fete all in itself. PM takes the intermission moments and makes them interesting.
I'll make the claim here that Psychic Migrations is my favorite. There is such a variety of waves, styles, locations, and music that the movie will be on repeat far longer than any else on this list. How many times are you going to want to listen to V.F.A.B.M's dialogue?