Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lazy Sunday # 163: The Dark Side Of The Lens

ride the wild surf

Despite the fact that I lived in Saskatchewan, a place where it's rare to see water let alone watery vistas that stir the imagination, Surfers permeated my teen years.

Back then it was the music of "The Beach Boys" and "Jan & Dean" and Frankie and Annette at the movies. Those Surfers appealed by representing a lifestyle that was carefree, warm and sunny; the California dream of endless youth and endless Summer.

One Wintery night in University I caught a campus screening of "Endless Summer", the seminal surf documentary, and got my first glimpse of a culture that seemed to be about more than tanned golden goddesses and cruising for burgers on a Saturday night. For a brief moment, while zipping up my parka to brave the cold walk home, I wondered if there was more to all this than I'd thought.

But a summer or two later, I visited California, took one look at the two foot chop off Malibu and wrote "Surf Culture" off as being as much the product of some youth obsessed studio exec's imagination as most of the rest of Tinsel Town.

And then in my 20's, I was hired to play a Surfer in a commercial for a British sports car that was shot in California during the winter storms that bring in the big surf. A cargo jet from England flew a half dozen specially painted cars to Los Angeles while a jet from Toronto ferried in the talent.

One of the grips on our crew had worked on a couple of Frankie and Annette's "Beach Party" movies and the make-up artist who painted on my tan every morning had done the same thing countless times for Marilyn Monroe. The candy-coated fantasy machine was all around me.

The first couple of days, we bombed those cars through the canyons as cameras on cranes and jib arms and helicopters swooped around us. I watched as stunt doubles made me look like Steve McQueen in "Bullit" beginning to enjoy the taste of cotton candy.

And then we went down to the beach.

The waves were huge, crashing in so hard that we literally lost two cars. One minute they were charging through the surf, spewing fantails of seawater and sand. The next, they had disappeared under the waves and the stunt drivers were swimming for their lives.

Nearby, and just out of shot, real Surfers were riding those same breaks. You couldn't help but be impressed.

On our last night, some of those Surfers were hired to sit around a beach bonfire with the Canadian actors playing their cinematic version. When the cameras rolled, we all laughed and did our best Frankie and Annette impersonations.

Between takes, while the man with Marilyn in his past powdered my nose, I watched them staring silently at the moonlight glinting off the incoming tide and knew there was something about them that I couldn't possibly understand.

I think I'm closer to that understanding now.

I've never really learned to surf. I took lessons one weekend while I was working in Australia and it was fun. But I knew there was far more to it that I didn't have the time to commit to learning.

But in the years previous, I'd learned to scuba dive and I think those two cultures have many points of convergence.

The first time you dive, you feel you're visiting a completely different planet. And once you've gone a week or more spending 2 or 3 hours a day on that planet, it becomes as familiar as your own and your perspective alters. You never see your home planet the same way again.

I think that happens with Surfers. In fact, after seeing Mickey Smith's "The Dark Side of the Lens", I know it does.

The ocean does that to you. In fact, anything that forces you to live in the moment and roll with the overwhelming power of Nature makes you realize that what's important in Life has little to do with the things that take up the vast majority of our time and our energy.

Smith's life in the Ocean has taught him a couple of things that all Artists should take to heart.

The first is to do something every day that scares you, something that "makes your heart beat the hardest". Then look around and ask yourself what you see that you've never seen before.

The second is to step out your door in the morning vowing to notice "the subtle glimpses of magic that other people miss" and when you do, stop for a moment to feel the appreciation of that discovery.

No matter who you are or what you do, you'll soon find your life enriched and the way you look at things forever changed.

Last week, I stood on a Pacific beach and watched the Tsunami wave that devastated Japan roll in. Its power and its rage had been spent by the time it got to me. But its character was different enough that you still noticed it and got a small sense of the history it still carried and the natural forces it represented.

Down the beach, a Surfer was riding it in, transforming the experience into something that fed his own perspective on Life, helping him sort out what's meaningful or simply confirming the joy of being alive.

Take some time for one of the most beautiful short films you'll ever see. Then go out and really -- Enjoy Your Sunday.

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