Lost In The Ether - a film by Andrew Kidman
I wouldn't normally discuss metaphysics in a surf review but Al Merrick started it...
In 1996 Merrick was being interviewed by a reporter from the Los Angeles Times about the use of computer shaping machines. Shaping machines were just becoming popular and a philosophical rift was opening between the shapers that used them and those that didn't. Merrick was an eager early adopter and in defence of his position he defiantly proclaimed that, "there's no soul in foam". He emphasised the point by crushing a foam coffee cup in his hand.
After watching Lost In The Ether I think it's safe to say that Andrew Kidman would heartily disagree with Al Merrick.
Lost in the Ether is Kidman's fifth film and follows on from the exploration of the surfboard design process that he began in Glass Love. The main point of difference being that in his new film he focusses on particular designs, the shapers who create them, and the process they undertake.
The film opens with an inspired move, Kidman tracks down the board Michael Peterson rode in Morning of the Earth, the one he did that cutback on, and recreates his own version of it. Footage of MP surfing is overdubbed with a remarkably lucid Peterson discussing the design merits of the board. Remarkable because he hasn't surfed in 30 years yet is still aware of its characteristics.
In the films next passage, Kidman spends time with shapers Michael Mackie and Sage Joske and Lost In The Ether moves into territory rarely trodden in surf films. Kidman delves into the design process; how the mental undertaking affects the shaper and how the final outcome is a tangible manifestation of the shapers themselves. Considered this way it is easy to understand the grounds that Kidman, and others of his ilk, may disagree with Merrick about foam lacking soul.
Upon that point: the word 'soul' can cause much hand-wringing in surfers. It's an often overused but rarely understood term. Disregarding the ridiculous 'soul surfer' notion and broadening the scope to include other design endeavours, such as architecture for instance, the concept seems less silly. Architects often talk of the affect buildings have on the wellbeing of their inhabitants. There is no empirical evidence of this but it's a concept discussed without derision. A building constructed of inanimate bricks and mortar, aesthetically arranged, possessing immaterial properties. In surfers parlance: it has soul.
Back to the film, most of the narration is by Kidman himself and his earnest and dry delivery takes some getting used to. But used to it I got. In content, his naturally romantic musings are grounded by discussions of the technical aspects of surfboard design: dimensions, design features, performance.
Since its release Kidman has said in the press that Lost In The Ether is a film for the 'surfing purist', made for surfers with a keen sense of surfing history. That may be true, yet I watched it with my partner who has absolutely no interest in surfing but an abiding passion for handmade bowls. It's the sculptural qualities of bowls, the flaws and imperfections that mark human toil, and the idea that construction is as important as conception that fascinates her. She thoroughly enjoyed Lost in the Ether. Of course, when it comes to Al Merrick's premise of soul being absent in inanimate objects she also heartily disagrees.
Lost In The Ether is limited to 1000 copies. It costs $80 and comes with a 100 page hard-bound book. It can only be bought from Andrew Kidman's website.