By Ding Alley
As the Wozzle’s biggest, most shameless comp-watching fan, I’m counting down the days ‘til they clear the lineup at Snapper and throw those coloured jerseys into battle.
Had a crack at watching the Nazaré event the other night, but as I squinted at my misty laptop screen all I felt was shame – I was there for the carnage and when poor Alex Botelho felt the fickle fingerfuck of fate, I felt cheap and ghoulish.
In contrast to those grainy Portuguese peaks, however, the promo spots for episode one of the Woz’s 'At Large' series looked incredible – Peahi, all gorgeous Pacific blues and whites, with shape and quality that threw Nazaré into poor relief.
So a day later I sat down and watched 'At Large', open to the idea that perhaps this might be a watershed for the WozStudios, that the spectacle of those few historic days at Peahi in January would allow the Woz machine to smack it out of the park.
After all, this debut episode of 'At Large' is a statement of intent. This is the direction the Woz are striking out on: convert the masses with compelling dramatic content, All the Ocean’s a stage, etc.
Now, during my own B-grade design career, when I’m assessing a layout or cover or whatever, I’ll often squint at my screen to reduce everything down to basic elements. I thought I’d take this approach further and do a run through of 'At Large' with my eyes shut.
Just listening to 'At Large' confirms the Woz’s intent clear as day, and that intent is this: Leave no gaps for the audience to fill with their own imagination or experience. You will be led every step of the way by every conceivable cinematic sound effect and musical trope known to man. In parts, the audio’s like that deafening pre-movie promo they run at the cinema letting you know you’re listening to Dolby Sound.
And it should be said there’s nothing evil or fundamentally wrong about this. Crafting a bed of appropriate audio under the vision is how it’s done. I get that. It’s logical that if you’re taking surfing mainstream you’ll use mainstream techniques, etc. And the Woz is falling over itself to impress. Full marks for effort, then.
Nonetheless, here’s 'At Large’s' 22 minutes of soundtrack and cinematic whooshes compressed into 100 seconds. I’ve tried to cut out the athletes’ dialogue. (It would have been easy to splice their soundbites together and make ‘em sound like total douches but that would be unfair and undeserved). So do your best to ignore the dialogue and listen out for the engineered sounds here, (earphones recommended).
From screamcore (By God the waves are fearsome!) to poignant tinkling piano (I’ve dedicated my life to this!), from jangly feelgood pop (Gals go surfing!), to swirling and swelling orchestral strings (History Has Been Made!). All selected not on artistry or musical merit, but to bludgeon the viewer with cues for feels. And let’s not mention the SFX value pack of ominous cinematic rumblings and ‘Ssssshhhhhhhhnnnnnnnk’ and ‘Fffffwwwwwwwwmmmmmm’ sounds etc.
And look, I know this is meanspirited, but I can picture Executive Producer ELO calling by the edit suite, watching a rough cut, pausing as the exhausted editors wait anxiously for judgement, then saying patiently, “Guys! I know the brief here is More Of Everything, but Kemper’s tube ride – it’s the climax! Screamcore’s too obvious! Swelling Wagnerian Violins is what we need!” An avuncular wink and blinding smile and he’s off down the corridor, as the team looks at each other knowing they’ve been touched by greatness.
Anyway, without heading too far down the rabbit hole here on this episode, It’s clear that the Woz sees bombast as the way to glory. Use every button-pushing trope and formula in the book, roll out all the clichés with a perfectly straight face. More is better. A very American way to go after it.
But jeez, you lose something taking that route, don’t you.
Maybe it’s just me, but this kind of reality-TV rapid-fire chophoppery never really gets under your skin. Don’t want to come over like a golden-ager, but compared to, say, Occy at Reunion in 'Pump', surfing to Concrete Blonde’s Scene of a Perfect Crime, there’s absolutely zero emotional resonance in this over-produced Frankenstein’s Monster of artifice.
In a just world, the troupe of WSL content producers and editors would spend a week on retreat with Jack McCoy and a VCR player learning about landing punches and doing more with less.
If Jack’s not up for it, at the very least, the Wozstudio crew should watch Ryan Moss’s ‘Sessions’ (more or less a solo effort documenting the same occasion, half the length, probs a tenth of the budget) over on Red Bull. See, ol’ Mossy trusts Huey to do the heavy lifting: there’re complete rides, interviews that are unguarded moments as opposed to cliché harvesting, and the music has reason to exist beyond signposting the screaming fucking obvious.
Is it not strange that an Austrian purveyor of a fizzy low-level carcinogen does surfing more authentically than surfing’s self-appointed overlords?
I’m not giving up on the WozStudios though. This is a personal mission for our Elo at the helm. Packaging surfing and taking it to the masses is his own recent journey of learning to surf writ large, and maybe we’ll all be winners if he can apply some of the fundamentals he’s discovering out there every time he paddles out.
So for all our sakes, Sir, don’t try and jam a million wriggles in every time. Relax and trust the waves to do a bit of the work. And it might seem counterintuitive given your vocational DNA, but try to take it down a notch and chill a bit.
// DING ALLEY
Ding Alley is two mates: cartoonist Dave McArthur and writer Gra Murdoch. They may be the most successful Surf Media team ever to come out of Footscray TAFE.