Review: Beyond Litmus

Stu Nettle
The Depth Test

The reviewer’s first question is this: What is it?

That simple inquiry determines how the reviewer will describe and assess the product at hand, because...well, we have to know what it is we’re reviewing.

But what about when the subject doesn’t fall neatly into any particular category? What then?

Well, firstly, it means there’s no template for the reviewer to follow, and secondly, it must be reviewed on its own merit and not how it compares to other art.

So this then is a review for Beyond Litmus, a book and movie that is neither sequel, reunion, nor redux. It's a project that follows no template. There’s freedom in that.

It’s been over twenty years since Andrew Kidman, Jon Frank, and Mark Sutherland made Litmus, pointing their camera at the people and places that sung to their hearts: Hynd highlining at J’Bay while riffing on life, Lynch giving a late night chautauqua in a teepee, Curren post-tour, the frontier of Ireland, the style of Occ, the staying power of Fitz.

The story of its impact is almost as fascinating as the film itself. Litmus was ignored upon release until it was picked up by key players such as Steve Pezman, then-editor of The Surfer’s Journal, who clicked with the message, strongly suggesting the movie was medicinal aid for conformist times. Kidman, Frank, and Sutho showed us that the clean-living, uber-jocks of the Momentum generation weren’t the only gang in town. Viewed in hindsight, Litmus was the vehicle that linked early-90s orthodoxy with the alternative explosion.

However, the cultural value of Litmus didn’t equate to monetary return, and riven by the old chestnut of creative differences, the Val Dusty troupe went their separate ways. Litmus was the last thing they all did together. Kidman went on to make films and music, Frank looked at the world through his viewfinder, and Sutho moved to the north coast to paint and ruminate on matters philosophical. Meanwhile, the Litmus stars continued in their shapeshifting ways, particularly Derek Hynd.

In one sense Beyond Litmus fills us in on what the Litmus alumni have been doing since the original but it presents like a Derek Hynd article in an 80s-era SW; the start ain’t the start and the finish aint the finish, the narrative jumps and the points-of-view switch, but there is a story in there. It’s simply not told in an orthodox way. Contrast it against the recent Momentum Generation and its stylish but predictable approach to storytelling.

The package contains both book and movie. The 100 page booklet has numerous interviews, some, such as the 40,000 word Hynd epic, require multi-day sittings. A rarity in the Instagram age, and not unwelcome either. You can expect every angle to be covered, including feminism as an experiment, the throwaway line from the original that Hynd has spent twenty years justifying. And rebuke he does. Aside from Hynd, other interviewees include Curren, Ryan Burch, and Terry Fitz.

Sleeved inside the book is the film, which at 80 minutes long has a similar scrapbook feel with plenty of old school ‘the moments in between’ lingering shots from Franky plus action footage to supplement the interviews.

For someone who was so outspoken through his early years, Hynd now lives the hermit life, despite kickstarting the Friction Free thing and doing some of the most unique surfing of the last decade. I count one story in Surfing World from ten years ago - the ‘Revolution’ issue - and increasingly sporadic profile pieces in the Journal. With the aforementioned 40,000 word interview, Hynd takes a centre-stage role in Beyond Litmus and we get a sense of motive when he speaks of his illness. The desire to document as the final dissolution approaches, and to work with people he trusts.

But Beyond Litmus isn’t weighed down by the spectre. After all, the Val Dusty crew worked best when wrestling with meaty matters, making light under a heavy gaze, and that skill hasn’t changed. There’s a bit of angst to chew on, a bit of irreverence too, while they take a sidelong look into what surfing is and what surfing means. They’ve never been afraid to wonder.

Beyond Litmus comes in a limited run of 1,500 and there’ll be no internet trailers. For that they make no apologies. The believers are out there, they know it, and this project is for them.

'Beyond Litmus' can be bought online.
The world premiere will be at Byron Bay Community Centre this saturday night as part of the Byron Bay Surf Festival. Tickets available from their website. Derek will be in the house for a Q&A at intermission.

Comments

factotum's picture
factotum's picture
factotum commented Tuesday, 19 Feb 2019 at 6:08pm

Now that is one crackin' review.

Grew up with Hynd's 80s-era SW crypticisms.

Bravo.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Tuesday, 19 Feb 2019 at 7:34pm

It's an epic read.

Hynd the hermit. I heard he was sick and offered to take him up some fish. I found his compound up behind Byron eventually, half Mad Max, half storm boy humpy and got bailed up by a trio of cattle dogs.
Tried to back down a steep winding driveway and dry docked the Camry on a concrete block.
Easier to find him surfing.

Haven't watched the movie yet.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Tuesday, 19 Feb 2019 at 9:33pm

Is it cool to ask what’s up with him ?

Sounds a bit more serious than writer’s block.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Wednesday, 20 Feb 2019 at 5:39am

throat cancer.

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Tuesday, 19 Feb 2019 at 10:42pm

Its hard to find an enigma..even in a Camry. That's a story in its self for surfers journal. Write about it.

AndyM's picture
AndyM's picture
AndyM commented Wednesday, 20 Feb 2019 at 11:11am

Agreed

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Tuesday, 19 Feb 2019 at 7:53pm

Wish I had the spondulix free to grab a copy. I'm a big AK fan and love just about everything that comes out of his little corner of the Wollumbin caldera. I'll have to track down a digital copy of Litmus first but, now that I don't have either TV or DVD player.

Don't let the bastards grind you down

Eugene Green's picture
Eugene Green's picture
Eugene Green commented Tuesday, 19 Feb 2019 at 9:27pm

How does the movie come Stu? USB? DVD? VHS? Download code?
Bought the full package as a grom. The movie, double val dusty cd and long sleeve T.
Dunno where I got the coin from back then, I definately dont have any spare right now. Hopefully I dont miss the boat on this one.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Tuesday, 19 Feb 2019 at 9:48pm

The price is reasonable considering it’s something you could get a lot of enjoyment from. Spend that much at the pub on a boozy Friday night

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Wednesday, 20 Feb 2019 at 8:41am

Goofyfoot, hear me now and thank me later: buy this package, and have one quiet (good) beer at home :-)

And yes, great review, Stu.

Finally, very sorry to hear about DH's illness.

saltman's picture
saltman's picture
saltman commented Wednesday, 20 Feb 2019 at 11:29am

I believe DH is expected to make a full recovery since treatment finished a while ago
But it’s a slow road shared by many

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Wednesday, 20 Feb 2019 at 11:40am

Good luck Mr Hynd.

Best wishes go out to you.

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Thursday, 21 Feb 2019 at 7:33am

Great review Stu and yes Hynd was very outspoken in the early 80's and that northern beaches mob were the epicentre of surfing. Had everyone of those SW's and the one with TC on the cover was a fave. New school I think it said or something like that.

jacksprat's picture
jacksprat's picture
jacksprat commented Thursday, 21 Feb 2019 at 8:54am

A note to surfing; try to move forward, it will help.

onetimeonly

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Thursday, 21 Feb 2019 at 5:29pm

I was thinking about this comment, wondering which way it was meant?

Does it mean move forward to modern equipment? Looking at the TC Oma footage, good surfers are drawing lines that would be very familiar with Kelly in 1996 or MF in 2001 - so the boards and the equipment have been in stasis for 20 or more years. Yes there were shorter/wider undercurrents, yes they have built foam back into them a bit, but so much is the same. Maybe we've reached perfection? Or maybe it's just a paradigm.

Or does it mean that the Litmus crew were really ahead of their times, and their exploring toward a feeling that the old boards provided (not to mention, float) was so far ahead of the times it was visionary. If you look at surfing now, the explosion of Logs all over little points, fish, twinnies, single fins, retro: maybe the first Litmus film was a taste of what moving forward really was.

I also wonder if they have paused to think about some of the more hip and commercialised interpretations of that beautiful, cruisy, rail and projection based surfing: we've got the beer ads, the incredible crowds, zipper wettie tops, Kombis again - it's become both a flood and a lifestyle all in itself.

Jockhobbs's picture
Jockhobbs's picture
Jockhobbs commented Friday, 22 Feb 2019 at 1:57pm

There is no "forward" in surfing. There's probably no "backwards" either. Most things have merit.

Glasslove made me look at all things differently. It launched NPJs career and it showed a great side of the Curren family legacy. I watch the NZ scene at least 5 times a year.

The world, not just the surfing world, need more creative people like Hynd. Good luck to him, he seems a kind and interesting fire brand.

hamishbro's picture
hamishbro's picture
hamishbro commented Thursday, 21 Feb 2019 at 1:24pm

Fair enough but it’s also important to document history. And because Australia was really driving the evolution of both pro surfing and surf culture between 1967 and the emergence of kelly slater and co as dominant in 1991 (with Tom Curren the one big exception), everyone in this country and elsewhere will always look back on the 1970s and 1980s (with the huge dynamics within that period too) that period as a golden age for Australian surf culture - purely because we were truly at the leading edge of all things wave sliding. And Mr Hynd was obviously a character who emerged during that heyday but has also continued to put his own cultural slant on the rebel/creative/experimental art of surfing ever since. Litmus j-bay (bells as well?) fish segment was an inspiration, and I didn’t watch it until 2008.

Tim Fisher's picture
Tim Fisher's picture
Tim Fisher commented Thursday, 21 Feb 2019 at 3:11pm

Occy at Bells in the original Litmus remains the best backhand surfing I have ever seen in my life. Remember watching that on VHS as an idiot teenager and thinking "aaaah, this is why everyone is in awe of Occ."
Then years later got to see the man himself watching that segment at a Rip Curl presso in his honour. Halfway through he leaned over and asked Neil Ridgeway what the movie was -- I don't think he'd ever seen it. Classic.

And yeah, really sad to hear about DH. Hoping he pulls through. Surfing needs his ornery character.

Jockhobbs's picture
Jockhobbs's picture
Jockhobbs commented Friday, 22 Feb 2019 at 1:57pm

Re: Occy. Word.

"Green hornet...green hornet..."

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Friday, 22 Feb 2019 at 2:08pm

Such a good soundtrack, aye!