Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ride the Wild Surf


Ah, a surfing movie made to depict real surfers, as compared to the “beach movie” group who surfed, but mainly played on the beach. This grouridethewildlcp also plays on the beach, but the focus is on the surfing. It was 1964 and surfing was hot, but not ready for the British Invasion of that year.

Hawaii is the location for Ride the Wild Surf. While a number of beaches are mentioned or included, Waimea Bay is the main location for the real action. In any case, it is the place for the “wild surf” and the whole meaning of the picture. Note the meteorological basis for the movie. This is a regular event. Storms create a surfing contest most every year. The waves are in the 18-30 foot range at Waimea Bay. This makes them “big.” According to the Willis Brothers [surfers], “Waimea Bay off Oahu, Hawaii, Mavericks off California, and Todos Santos off Mexico are great great big waves.” [Great Big Wave]. Waimea Bay seems to be the place where a surfer must go to make a name for him/herself as being a big wave surfer. At Waimea Bay, a lava ridge apparently extends outward from the bay. As big storms in the Aleutians generate waves to 50 feet out in the ocean, they break on this ridge then flatten only to reemerge as gigantic waves near the shore [Surfline].

Avoided for a long time because of the location’s role in ancient Hawaiian culture, this changed in the 1950s as surfers took the chance on these super waves. As the plot of the film goes, a storm off the Aleutians has sent these big waves toward Hawaii. The progress of the storm and the subsequence waves is followed on the radio. It is big news. Three surfers [Tab Hunter, Fabian, and Anthony Hayes] arrive from the mainland to take their chances at being the last one to ride the “big ones.” In so dws3oing they get to take a chance at getting that last ride’s fame and meet the loves of their lives in Barbara Eden [pre-“ I Dream of Jeanie”], Shelly Fabares, and Susan Hart. Of course, the mainland folk are up against the local surf bums, of which James Mitchum is the main figure.

Side trips are made to a waterfall for some crazy late night jumping meant to prove drunken courage, and an Hawaiian farm in need of some repair because an earlier surfer husband surfed too much. The film shows the diversity of the island’s population, but heavily focuses on Caucasian mainlanders. . The true point of the film is ”surfer culture” and the ethnic mix is not important. Some local Asians sell fireworks, but they are rather stereotyped and made to seem foolish. Hawaiians seem minimized. Susan Hart appears to represent the Hawaiians from her physical appearance, but her mother is clearly not the source of Hawaiian genes.

One of the drawbacks of the film is that the actors seem to wait for the great waves in nearly still waters. The obviousness of these not being out in the real waters of Wiamea Bay strikes a note of cheapness. So much of the film is real surfing; it was unfortunate that they could not do a better job of filming the surfers waiting for the surf.

A great film of an era from the past. It is flawed but then what can you say of a movie that has Barbara Eden as a brunette and Shelly Fabares as a blonde. It violates nature. It has to be confusing to older Boomers.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2005. Geography in Media: Ride the Wild Surf. Dakota Alliance XV (3): Summer 2005: 7.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Whale Rider


New Zealand has been going through a rare state of popularity with young Americans of late. The Lord of the Rings saga has been filmed there, and I have even seen some contests on television offering trip to New Zealand to be a part of that epic work.

Whale Rider involves a more realistic presentation of New Zealand, and, at the same time, is a great story with multicultural themes.

What you get to see is Whangara on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. This is a small Maori community that enjoys one wonderful view of the ocean. The hills have some roughness to them, and the view of the world is widescreen in nature. The Maori, being Polynesian, have a traditional focus on the ocean. Their whole culture is based on its relationship to the sea.

What you get to enjoy and appreciate is the story of a Maori girl who challenges the gender and historic circumstances of her family and people. Her grandfather is a Maori chief. He is troubled by the loss of concern and respect for the traditions of his people. His son is an artist involved in marketing Maori art in Germany. The son seems to have no interest in his potential tribal position and in village life. There are few of postmodern economic prospects to be found in the remote village. Also, his son died at birth. In sorrow he left his son's twin sister to be raised by the Grandfather. The daughter is interested. Her name is Piekia.

Piekia is drawn to her culture. She embodies everything the chief seeks, but is a twelve-year-old woman. The Grandfather has trouble accepting her role in the group's future until several whales are beached. While this process is not understood, and research continues on this phenomenon, the whales have a traditional importance in Maori culture. Peikia understands this and takes over to save the whales, finally riding one back to the sea. This is so significant to the village as it recalls that the Maori came to New Zealand guided by another Peikia riding a whale.

The issue, which few Americans would know, is that the Maori are a Polynesian group that reversed the route by which they penetrated the Pacific. Arising out of Southeast Asia, the Polynesians settled the South Pacific migrating from island to island as their population reached its maximum on each progressive island. Eventually they turned north and settled Hawaii. Around 1000 AD, the Maori settled New Zealand by reversing that path. From "Hawaiki" they sailed to the southwest. However, "Hawaiki" is a little mysterious. Once I read it was Hawaii, but the Cook Islands seem to be the more current choice.

Whale Rider is a great story, with great geography. It links feminist issues with geography, anthropology, and multiculturalism. It illustrates the limited postmodern futures of native cultures caught in remote locations without good prospects in the global economy. It also shows the beauty and flaws of a far off place.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2003. Geography in Media: Whale Rider. Dakota Alliance XIII(5): November-December 2003: 7.

Friday, June 07, 2013



The Who’s rock-opera, Tommy, came to the screen in 1975. The Who pushed the limits of music in the 1960s and 1970s. Their stage performance was overshadowed by their tendency to smash their guitars and drums. This was music that lost its edge if played softly. A local band with their Fender amps up full still lacked the presence to make a song by The Who sound right.

Tommy is a massive indictment of postmodern life. It does this in a British setting showing the beauty and ugliness of the physical and social landscapes. While specifically exposing the underlying personal damage and conflict between the World War II and post-war generations, it digs at the fake lifestyles of today’s plastic world, a world at odds with the sustainable and sustaining natural world. Even the continual, near unrelenting build of the music speaks to the tension. It makes you nervous by itself.

Early on Tommy shows the human damage done by World War II. Thinking his father dead in a plane crash, Tommy’s mother [Ann-Margret] gives birth to Tommy then remarries. The real death of Tommy’s father at the hands of his postwar parents isolates Tommy from life. He becomes a “deaf, dumb, and blind kid.” He has shut out a world that alienates him internally. His parents try, but they cannot find any help for Tommy from among modern society’s psychological and spiritual counselors. The bankruptcy of society and its inability to deal with the sensitive human spirit are massively clear. Ann-Margret cavorting in a massive flow of baked beans drives the point home.

Of course, Tommy becomes the “pinball wizard.” He beats the champion while the famous song blares that Tommy plays by sense of smell. Pinball is a metaphor for postmodern life. It is an endless playing of a game that brings fame and acclaim, but no relief from real inner pain.

Tommy does revive his spirit and life. “See me, feel me, touch me” is the line Tommy repeats over and over in his frustration with society’s unconcern for his heart. In the end he sees, feels, and is touched. That spirit collapses in decadence as his stepfather immediately takes him down the road of religion for profit. He becomes the messiah for a bankrupt postmodern world. The short attention span of those in that world soon allows them to turn from Tommy’s healing message to one of disappointment with the underlying dirtiness of the money-grubbing.

The geography is that of everyplace, yet inherently British. The geography provides beauty and horror. The opening scene takes you to a British lake in which Ann-Margret and Tommy’s father share an idyllic moment, a picnic on a rock high above the lake, a nude swim in the rushing water in front of a waterfall. The beauty turns dark as the damage of the Blitz rips the dream world apart. The caged protective prison that is Ann-Margret’s bed during the raids is a stark reminder of the horror of it all. Afterward, the lower-class environments of his stepfather are an introduction to a hidden Britain. We often see the fine houses and castles, but now the haunts of the lower class are the focus. Things brighten as Tommy is cleansed in a lake set in the Caledonian-Age hills.

The natural world’s pull on people is a part of Tommy’s rebirth. Ann-Margret is dancing in a wonderful orange dress with a slit down the front. She is imploring Tommy to speak. She finally offers to break the mirror that holds them in a fake environment of cloth-hung walls and garish colors. They break free to the purity of water. They splash around in it as Tommy sings and opens his eyes. He is free, and the natural world is his host. The water is pure as can be. The sun is high in the sky and bright as the camera can take. “…and freedom tastes of reality” he sings finding the natural world. He runs through a war scene where they ignore his pleas. He ends up on a beach where people watch him run while seated in their cars, their sun glasses on, blank stares on their faces. Ann-Margret follows him into the water and is washed herself of her makeup, her jewels. She is baptized.

Tommy’s fame as a wizard brings young people to him as a messiah. This falls apart as they become disillusioned with the perversions of money on faith.

Tommy is an examination of the bankruptcy of global culture where plastic replaces reality. That world will not satisfy what human beings need.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2001. Geography in Media: Tommy. Dakota AllianceXI(2): March-April 2001: 11.