Why Dear Suburbia Is the Best Surf Film In Years
By Col Bernasconi | 26 September 2012
Dane Reynolds, Japan. Pic: Nate Lawrence
“...if you go home with someone and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them – Icon®”
Opening scene; after a Mescal dreaming intro montage I awoke knee-deep in chapter one of Dear Suburbia, the latest opus from filmmaker Kai Neville. The instrumentally sparse and lyrically heavy sounds of the Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds track ‘Red Right Hand’ backing the surfing of Craig Anderson, Mitch Coleborn and Chippa Wilson was so pleasant a surprise I was instantly rescued from the dread I had of having to drag myself through another pulp surf film propped up by false hero worship, neon lights and congested editing. Content to be alone, and without my right hand on the fast forward button, I let the tide take me.
The three surfers in question have a collective thirst for shoulder-to-head high left-handers that can’t be faulted. For one-manoeuvre eye candy it’s a treat. The wave they’re surfing offers barrels and ramps varied enough to make splitting their individual styles and idiosyncrasies a breeze. No need for names to be billboarded across the screen, tarnishing the beautifully shot clips. Often pulled back, Kai cleverly uses crazy surfing as background rather than the obvious full frame feature, which adds a welcome freshness (especially to a film’s opening chapter). It’s not revolutionary but Kai’s subtle use of this technique is to become a feature of the film throughout.
The film is sliced into chapters, which is a handy feature down the track when you’re on repeat viewings – but like a new Tool album, or a Bret Easton Ellis novel, I’m feeling a straight read-through (viewing, listen) is the best tonic for one’s initial look at Dear Suburbia.
Dear Suburbia, Triptych.
The surfing continues with said chapters being interspersed with eclectic totems of modern suburban living pirouetting on a lazy boy. They mean nothing or deep epitheses depending on your point of view. Whatever the individuals’ take on their artistic merit they work in the functional sense of transporting the viewer to the next “section” without too much fanfare.
Tuned in, and turned off, Dear Suburbia manages to command your full selective attention without attempting to over-stimulate. From Indonesia to New Zealand, the Caribbean and finally Japan, the locations are seamlessly intertwined with featured surfers chopping and changing. The surfing is next level in many ways, but most notably it’s the increase in combinations that raise the bar the most. Yes, Chippa, Craig, Yadin Nicol and others have some flashpoint moments with one manoeuvre takes, but when Jack Freestone and even Kolohe Andino string two and three inverted fin throws on one wave, the future of surfing can be seen.
This step-up in performance is in part perhaps thanks to the ASP judging criteria, which with the likes of Jordy Smith and Owen Wright in its elite ranks, has had to bend with the times. If those surfers want to score a perfect 10 on next year’s tour for example, I doubt one aerial will do it [Kelly’s Bells Beach 10 a dying breed].
Craig Anderson, New Zealand. Pic: Nate Lawrence
Only flaws critically watching these two surfers would be their slightly boyish frames. The power and rail surfing they poses is there in theory but until there is a little more meat on the bone we won’t get the full picture; enter one Dane Reynolds to the scene.
As I said in an earlier posting mentioning Dane – “Holy Mother of God.” His surfing in this film is without equal. As a writer (cough, cough) it’s hard to adequately cover how far ahead he is, in terms of that power that might be lacking with the kids I’ve mentioned. Not to mention how inverted and inventive his airs and combination of moves are! Bulk-grit, teeth-chattering commitment, super-human-agility, ingenious-creativity, are just a few superlatives one could use to describe his performance throughout Dear Suburbia.
Kai Neville and his trusty 16mm. PIc: Nate Lawrence
Dane alone makes any price of admission worth it, but with a deft hand Kai doesn’t over play his role. For Dane surfing is performance-based and I’m sure he’s happy with the results of Dear Suburbia.
While all surfers represented in Dear Suburbia play an integral role in film, like Dane, another surfer who’d be extra chuffed to watch the replay would be Hawaiian John John Florence. John (along with Dillon Perillo) scores a growling right in Japan that does its best to be possibly the best right hand barrel ever seen! It does appear to be the same right that a full host of the cast, including Dane and Yadin, surf earlier on... But not on the bigger day?
John Florence, Japan. Pic: Nate Lawrence
Prior to my private screening (literally I was at home alone), the only reports I’d received on this film had come indirectly from Kelly Slater and Byron Bay grommet Kyuss King. Reports from young Kyuss’ dad that he disliked the often slow moody music had me more interested in hitting play than not. Hello Joy Division, Iggy Pop, Bauhaus, The Jesus and Mary Chain and more. His acknowledgment that the surfing was fantastic a side note. He’ll learn to love the music as much as us older folk do I’m sure. Kelly’s thoughts came via CI surfboard’s team manager, Travis Lee, who asked the surf wise Slater what he thought of Dear Suburbia during a house call. “The footage of Dane in that film is the best surfing that has ever been filmed,” replied Kelly.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
From a guy that found Modern Collective a little too celebrity driven, what with its hands-on pyramids and lit up faces etc, I’m happy to claim Dear Suburbia as a personal favourite [despite the obvious sponsor requested footage of Kolohe stickering up his board midway through, yuk].
***** Five stars
– Col B
Watch Trailer: HERE
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