Review: Beyond Litmus
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.