It's about life - not "lifestyle"
"STEP INTO LIQUID", a surf movie? Isn't that obvious?

Not really. A "surf movie" traditionally was below Hollywood radar, a smallish endeavour which was such a personal expression that it really required a simpatico audience to get it. In the surf movie glory days such a film was either a hit or a miss - it could change the lives of the surfers sitting on folding chairs in community rental halls all across the world, and as such also provided a shared experience and heritage. The recent Hollywood release "Blue Crush" was a fair entry in the big-screen arena, but never meant to be a "surf movie", although it may well be seen as such at least for younger ladies. To compare something, Gregory Schell's "The Far Shore" was an instant classic.

What Dana Brown has done with STEP INTO LIQUID is, well, pretty much the impossible. It's "The Endless Summer" for this era, big-screen version, showing a view of what surfing is doing today in a manner accessable to surfer and spectator alike, without pandering to or patronizing either group. As the summer of 2003 comes to a close, both groups have been pandered to and patronized in epic proportions.

Of course, is going to have a warm spot for any surf movie which includes a bit of narration which went something like this: "It's not about lifestyle, it's about life..."  Hooked this reviewer good with that, I'll admit. STEP INTO LIQUID reflected a mature perspective all the way through, using what looks to be a big budget and aquired film skills to make a first-class work of movie house art which could have played beautifully at any underground 1970's Women's Center auditorium.

As to the nuts and bolts of it? Sorry. I hate having too many details given away, so I'm not going to do that here. Personal confession: the whole tow-in thing is so far from any reality I expect to experience that I have nearly zero interest; that aspect of surfing is pretty much not applicable to 95% of all surfers who ever lived and who ever will live. It is very easy to turn any material on that, and Laird Hamilton for that matter, into sniveling hero worship. Yet the subject and surfer are both unquestionably Out There on The Edge. They deserve some examination and attention, and Brown deftly does both in a manner which not only engaged this reviewer but left me feeling like these distant points of surfing are thoroughly connected with my mundane surfing reality. Better yet, I'm not embarassed by the thought that a whole lot of non-surfers are going to see this.

I was very interested in seeing actual footage of Hamilton on his hydrofoils, but sadly I fell asleep through part of that. I'm working the summer job from hell, I was relaxed, it was cool in the theater...

The Blue Crush factor: Rochelle Ballard gave the movie it's title. There is plenty of footage of women surfers. It's wholly integrated into the film, and no "girl power" gibberings. Like I said, this film comes from a mature viewpoint, and it's no loop for the batchelor party.

There is travel, footage of exotic lands, and footage of rarely seen locations. When was the last time you saw Texas or Wisconsin? I know a lot of younger viewers derided that footage online, but one has to consider what viewpoint they are looking from.  Personally I thought those two segments showed the best of what surfing can provide to a person. Steve Pezman, of The Surfer's Journal, gets many thumbs up for his observations on contemporary surfing. Again, this reflects a mature viewpoint on the part of the filmmaker, and doesn't make the film less marketable to younger audiences - it just gives it some depth and honesty which is frequently missing in surf movies.

So much of the vital heart of surfing in 2003 now takes place on the distant corners of the world that it is easy to feel disconnected. Contemporary marketing forces seem intent on confusing the consumers (us...the surfers...). STEP INTO LIQUID really draws from the community well, and gives a unifying experience back to surfer and non-surfer alike, including cutting edge action. But what is overall the most memorable aspect of this for me? After a certain amount of decades in the water, it just isn't about the One Radical Moment. The guys in Texas looked like they really had a good thing going. Hawaii, and Hawaiian culture, pretty much were absent from the content, reflecting perhaps the reality that Hawaii is pretty much the Broadway stage of surfing but no longer what it once was in terms of surfing development. I think what I found quite memorable, upon much later reflection, is that maybe half the surfing seemed to take place wearing wetsuits. Could this be? Wetsuits are unquestionably my surfing reality, and just to have a real subtext like that in a big screen release gives an authenticity which is long overdue.

Bruce Brown and ENDLESS SUMMER remain as the first benchmark in the surf movie crossover area, but it's like climbing Mt. Everest. He was the First, and there is only going to be one of those. Others eventually summit, and down the road people do it in their underwear and on their hands, all looking for some kind of distinction. Few ever set new benchmarks, and that's exactly what Dana Brown has done here. It takes fortunate timing, excellent skills, hard work, and vision. See it.

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