The Flyer: Wherefore Art Thou Story?

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
Flyer

A few years back I attended one of Jack McCoy's spoken word shows at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art.

The central tenet of Jack's talk was how and why we tell stories, and in the process, Jack evoked primitive man in the caves of southern France using narrative to entertain or inform the tribe; how information was better conveyed within a technique rather than mere discursive playback.

Heady stuff from a surf movie maker, but then you can't argue with Jack’s contribution to the concept: Early pattern recognition of groundswells travelling into tradewinds; Joe Engel chasing pro tour dreams while his mate Thornton sought an Asian paradise; a surfing circus troupe replete in fluoro corduroy travelling the dusty byways of outback Australia; Occy maintaining status off tour, then later Occy as worldbeater; Laird's wave; the yin and yang of Rasta and Andy, and many more stories that informed you about personality, or about board design, or places you wanted to travel to. Stories within stories.

Jack's back catalogue is proof that even something as performance-driven and as reliant on aesthetics as surfing can still tell stories, and conversely that stories are the best vehicle for surfing. When information is delivered via story we remember it, we place it in context for easy recall.

So yeah, you get the gist.

Jack then invited Kai Neville and Craig Anderson onto the stage to talk about their latest work, 'The Quieter You Are The More You Can Hear', and to then screen it. Yet after a two-hour spiel about stories, the film was the antithesis of Jack's hypothesis. For twenty minutes Craig surfed, and it was beautiful and wonderfully shot, but it was the inversion of a story, it was an anti-story: no arc, no journey, just images on a screen displayed without context. The highlight of the film was an underwater tracking shot that followed a fish through a reef cutting, then panned to see the fin of Craig's board pass overhead.

We learned more about the fish than Craig Anderson.

It was pure surf pornography: a stud with nice hair and a biological advantage appears on screen, he does his business in silence, then wipes off and dissappears.

With this considered the premier form by the surfing cognoscenti, I can understand why YouTube surf vlogs get the hits they do. For all the shoddy production and unashamed panhandling, at least viewers come to know the character on screen, sometimes their friends too, their catch cries and mannerisms, and the rhythm of their lives - travel, chase swells, surf a novelty spot etc etc.

I spent a bit of time thinking about the power of stories this week. Firstly because Dion Agius released his latest film, ‘Dark Hollow’. Yet for all the brilliant surfing and cinematography, ‘Dark Hollow’ falls into the anti-narrative camp. We’re told the movie is a vision, and it’s a vision with an incredible soundtrack. Yet it feels like there was more focus on obscure song choice than anything resembling a story. ‘Dark Hollow’ is surf porn with inferred coolness, but it’s surf porn nonetheless.

At the other end of the spectrum is ‘Lost Track Atlantic’, with the second episode released this week. It’s the fifth Lost Track film from Ishka Folkwell and Torren Martyn, and as each one employs a different mode of travel, narrative is baked into their cake. But there’s more to it than that. Ishka with his keen eye for the cinematic scene and a knack for pacing, while Torren has leading man looks, the confidence to talk to camera, and of course, feline grace on a wave. Simple narration, a storyboard plot, and a boatload of swell complement the film.

I also chatted to Dylan Graves this week, and as I mentioned YouTube vloggers earlier I’ll mention Dylan here. As the host of the YouTube series, Weird Waves, Dylan tells other people's stories and they’re always engaging and entertaining. However, the success of Weird Waves isn’t a simple matter of luck or charm, but as Dylan explains, it’s because he’s discovered the technique of telling a story.

Same as in the Paleolithic caves of southern France, same as in the online world of today.

-Stu

Watch: Lost Track // Atlantic - Episode 2

After that extended intro there's not much more to say, is there? Whatever you take away from the film, whether it inspires you to start planning for post-COVID travel, or gets you nostalgic for those footloose years, every surfer will thrill to Torren's barrel instinct in roping point surf.  Read More >

Dylan Graves and the getting of weirdness

"There's a jazz element to novelty waves," says the presenter of the wonderful web series, Weird Waves, while also shedding light on his responsibility as a teller of other people's stories. Read More >

Watch: Dark Hollow

I've given my thoughts up above but don't let that colour yours. 'Dark Hollow' is an extended clip presented as a paean to Dion's home state of Tasmania. Read More >

Singalong with Fernando!

And now for something completely different. Fernando Aguerre, the irrepressible president of the ISA, the man who likes to dress up as a curtain, and who also loves an impromptu singsong when the mood strikes - which it did just  recently.   Read More >

Watch: Maps of Home // Extended Cut

John John must've had a strict running time for his recent short movie 'Maps of Home'. How else do you explain Kohl Christenson's wave hitting the cutting room floor? Or Koa Rothman's? Jamie Sterling's too. Fortunately they're all here in 4K. Read More >

Comments

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 8:24am

Who doesn't love a good story?

I'm always sharing my stories on here about my banal little life. The posts that I find most entertaining are where the other contributors here share theirs. We've all got a tale to tell and it's nice to be invited into someone else's world for a spell.

Jono's picture
Jono's picture
Jono Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 8:58pm

That random encounter with a frisky woman on a crowded train in Japan is some of your best work.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 9:24pm

Ha ha! Cheers Jono.

I'll never forget that. Totally random and the sweetest of sweetest memories.

I hope wherever she is she's happy.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 9:50pm

that was truly epic Zen, have you considered writing erotic fiction haha

gearoid's picture
gearoid's picture
gearoid Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 9:42am

Video logs are the only way that surfing can be monetised profitably. Think about it, if you had to choose between the above content, or to watch a surf comp, what are you most likely to pay for?

Oh, and:

Wherefore means why, as in 'why are you Romeo?' from the famous speech.
Just sayin'

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 11:00am

Interesting, Stu.

I have to agree that the vast majority of surf footage masquerading as film is indeed akin to porn, though unlike porn, there's often appears precious little attempt at infusing any form of plot into it. I think that developing any form of plot beyond schlock takes considerable time and thought, none of which is part of the churn of modern 24hr attention spans for something with as much one-upmanship as surfing.

It's interesting that the surf films that seem to resonate for a long time tend to focus on the quality of surfing and feel free to mix it up with a bit of story, rather than cramming as much surfing as possible into what the makers believe is the optimal attention span. The Lost Track series area great modern example, with MOTE obviously another (the?) bookend. One that's always stayed with me is the absurdity of Kong's Island with red-hot surfing and the magic cream puff tree. Mad Wax, another beauty.

Which is not to say that films without plot are bad, but I do think that there are too many clips that get "dropped" (I hate that phrase) which really should have been 2 or 3 waves at most (a lot from Solander fall into this category). It's a rare bird which holds your attention for long with surfing as the only content - to me they've got to be well shot with different and/or incredible surfing to hold me for more than a minute or two.

I suppose everything has its niche, it's own audience, but it's a good time for the bar to get set a little higher.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 11:08am

You reckon there's scope for a movie where Wade Carmichael answers the door in a flimsy bathrobe and says "I didn't order a large pepperoni pizza..."?

tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter Sunday, 13 Jun 2021 at 12:30am

Maybe cleaning pools is more his thing ..

Thunderbox's picture
Thunderbox's picture
Thunderbox Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 11:46am

Second Thoughts by Timmy Turner and co has always been a favourite surf flick, there's enough story (plus the gnarly epilogue), not to mention getting very barrelled in waves of drooling consequence, all on a meagre budget in pretty classic conditions. For some reason even the strange SoCal VO seems to add to it. Loving the Lost track series... looking forward to sitting down with epi 2

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups Sunday, 13 Jun 2021 at 10:32am

Just rewatched this. It's a classic for sure. The guy has a goofy charm about him. His thoughts on the generosity of the Indonesian people are spot on. He was obviously critiquing some of the post 911 anti Muslim hysteria in the US at time.
They could have made the entire experience a lot more comfortable with a bit more planning, but that would have made a much less interesting story. It reminds me of what it was like to be young- just living in the moment and taking whatever life throws at you. They were grommets basically, but instead of a trip down the coast eating baked beans and sleeping in boardbags they happen to be on a deserted jungle island in Indonesia sleeping under tarps and drinking brackish stream water. About as hard core as it gets I reckon.
Of course the surfing is amazing as well, but I found myself waiting for the bits in between where he's talking about the realities of camping out where they were. 10/10 for me.

groundswell's picture
groundswell's picture
groundswell Sunday, 13 Jun 2021 at 11:00am

spuddups said "They could have made the entire experience a lot more comfortable with a bit more planning, but that would have made a much less interesting story."

yeah like simply buying a shitload of dried fish which would last months for protein. a few bags of canned veggies or at least vitamins etc
but excellent movie pity Timmy cant surf in indo anymore due to staph or something in his brain.
The other guyi forget his name is now a skipper, wont be long till hes working indo surf charters.

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 12:13pm

Kong's Island is a classic. I watch it every few years and it never gets old.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 12:30pm

"Chappy likes to bite ankles..."

X 2- Classic movie.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 1:18pm

'Kongs Island' is a classic for pulling a story out of thin air, but for truly making something out of nothing I'm gonna put Vaughan Blakey's name front and centre.

For two of his more recent films, 'Red Monkey...' and 'Free Scrubber', both of which are unreal, VB had no hand in the filming process. He was sent master tapes by the Rip Curl guys and asked to do something with them.

Sure, Jack also invented the fictional tale of 'Kong's Island', but he also rolled the cameras, staged the scenes etc., unlike VB who was just handed the master tapes and, in what sounds like a film school assignment, tasked with creating stories from footage he'd never seen before. If I'm marking him, VB got a flying pass for both efforts.

That's the essence of good storytelling. It's one thing to document, another to divine a fable.

His other films - see 'Doped Youth, 'Scary Good', and 'Postcards From Morgs' - are proof that VB is one of surfing's greatest fabulists - meant in the nicest possible way.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 1:25pm

Yes Stu on the money...loved VB funny as fuk movies and loved Jacks Green Iguana etc ......all time

andy-mac's picture
andy-mac's picture
andy-mac Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 2:07pm

Red Monkey Full Moon, my favourite in last few, well quite a few years .. Love what Torren is doing. Mad Wax and Kong's are classics from my grommethood.
I remember sitting through hours of Wide World of Sports for 5 minute surfing clip, so these days kind of over load with available surf clips.

icandig's picture
icandig's picture
icandig Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 3:01pm

Great observations Stu and crew. Been skipping through surf clips and not watching them whole for a while now. My brain is bit numb to them it even if the surfing is incredible. It takes something outstanding (JJF's last one) or novelty (Dylan Graves) to get my attention these days. Anyone remember this one....not really story, but I remember it kept my interest back in the day for all of the weird bits and pieces. Cross discipline too. (Possibly not a legal copy).

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 3:07pm

Doped Youth was unreal. Loved it.

Free Scrubber, imho, wipes the floor with Red Monkey. Maybe because Tom Curren is 84609 times as interesting as Mason Ho, roughly.

woodwork's picture
woodwork's picture
woodwork Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 1:31pm

Your artical is about as complicated as the equipment you guys ride.

RustyWalliams's picture
RustyWalliams's picture
RustyWalliams Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 12:32pm

Oooh.  Interesting.  Not sure I agree with your account of what narrative is though.  Anything that harks back to paleo anything is probably bullshit.  History, time and, with with, narrative, are as much marked by gaps and things lacking as they are by the things that are easy to show.  

Yeah, narrative with arc and whathaveyou sell shit (let’s not kid ourselves, Lost Track is 100% an ad), but they only press you in places you are well aware of.  It’s the things that fuck with you without you realising, or you having control over how they imprint themselves upon you that should be sought out.  Otherwise it’s just This American Life, Hallmark and NAB ads, which all give you the warm and fuzzies in a fucked up world.

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 7:00pm

That's a fairly pessimistic take on things I reckon. From my experience if you look hard enough for the dark side in things you'll probably find it. I'm taking a more of a middle ground view, in that I'd put the ad percentage of Lost-Track at 50% rather than your 100%. Happy to hold on to our respective views though. Each to their own aye.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 5:16pm

The stories I like the best are when SN goes into impromptu creative writing mode. Who did the one about Dylan G going to do weird waves in Siberia, bringing back an ancient virus from melted permafrost, and causing a worldwide pandemic? Laughed myself silly at that one. I have a love for B grade movie-style stories that descend into chaos or farce.

My own effort at turning a Surfcoast town into Pet Sematary (on an article about a movie to be filmed here) sadly does not seem to have been taken up as the script by the producers. I can only live in hope of seeing zombified golden retrievers, kelpies and dachshunds around town...

Roker's picture
Roker's picture
Roker Saturday, 12 Jun 2021 at 5:20pm

I dig Free Scrubber. Would love to see Free Scrubber II. Same star, same cinematographer. Only with VB as writer/director this time. Imagine trying to direct Tom Curren? Stick to the script Tom. No, I'm not quite seeing that Tom. I don't exactly agree with that interpretation Tom. We need to respect the writer and try to learn our lines Tom. A little less improvisation please Tom. Where's Tom? Does he even look at the call sheet? Someone check his trailer. Get a producer here now to find him and get him back on set. Oh fuck. That's a wrap. Come back tomorrow everyone. How's the budget looking?

But if anyone could do it, it would be VB.

groundswell's picture
groundswell's picture
groundswell Sunday, 13 Jun 2021 at 3:58am

I like castles in the sky type movies with lots of locals shown and culture of the locals, makes you feel like you visited the place, only problem was there were no big surf in Castles in the sky..i guess it was targeting hollywood as thats where the premier was shown. Great music though some pretty good surfing from Rasta, marzo and rob machado a lot of others. but showing locals and culture of peru and vietnam was great and the local ships and boats with there pretty sails and odd shapes..more than a surf movie..which is great because the surf was pretty crap in a lot of sections like vietnam..but the two surfers knew how to fly in slop. i also like green iguana for its occy footage...some of his best surfing ever.

Chris stroh made some good surf films of cronulla slabs and south coast with underground bands as a soundtrack, made those bands like toe to toe, spiderbait, front end loader all semi successful bands through his movies..could have been better with more well known bands some say but underground was Chris Strohs thing. he never filmed me though and i used to rip. probably as i had no sponsors and no filmer except paul gleeso and another underground filmer filmed me at shark island and south coast slabs but i never bothered to get the footage.Later on Matt Percy told me "good photos are like a good moment trapped in time" and i never forgot it, started collecting my footage as Matt kept his. under his mattress.
Still though in indo when its pumping guys on boats yelling out hey come over here weve got some shots of you, we're like the surfs still good photos can wait.

josey's picture
josey's picture
josey Sunday, 13 Jun 2021 at 7:57am

It's hard to go past Andrew Kidmans movies. Free love, Litmus and Beyond Litmus are hands down better than the faux ads we get delivered these days.

angatta cool's picture
angatta cool's picture
angatta cool Monday, 14 Jun 2021 at 11:55am

Far out man.

theblacksheep's picture
theblacksheep's picture
theblacksheep Monday, 14 Jun 2021 at 6:35pm

Instagram has fucked my ability to watch surf films (or concentrate on anything really).
I feel sorry for all the effort that goes into them. The second something is in slow motion or god-forbid, ultra slow motion I’m out. Any non-surf arty bullshit-to-music intro and I’m out.
And if you are not doing something death defyingly different good luck.
BUT to your point - open with a good story that tugs at my unfulfilled dreams and teases me with what’s around the next headland and I’ll watch past the 60-sec insta limit and ask for more.
Lost track grabbed my curlies and had me watch the whole lot dreaming of days gone by. Well done lads.
The other bullshit screamed more try hard boring art incorrectly encouraged by back slapping from the cool kids clubs. They should have just cut it into Instagram clips…