Sadly, this week’s film was the last to be presented by Stalwart Attendee, Shorts Coordinator Extraordinaire, Winter Marathon Host, and Cinema 1544 Board of Trustees Member Phong Nguyen before his departure for the greener grass of UC San Diego.  Seriously, I can’t possibly express how much Phong has contributed to Cinema 1544 over the years.  He was involved from the very outset, has presented nine films and countless shorts, only missed a handful of screenings…I think it’s safe to say that without his enthusiasm for the Cinema 1544 franchise, it may well have folded long ago.

Phong, a heartfelt thank you, we’ll miss you, and come back anytime from me and all of us at Cinema 1544!  It won’t be the same without you.

To start us out Phong began with a short from the web (and suggested to him by another former Cinema 1544-ophile Alessandro Graziano) called Big Bang, Big Boom.

I think these things might harm me/'Cause they sure don't look like Barney/And they think that I'm their dinner not their friend

It’s an incredibly ambitious stop-motion street art piece that runs nearly 10 minutes and spans a ridiculous amount of urban space and number of buildings as graffiti animals move and morph through the world.  It’s worth watching (link above) simply for the awe-inspiring scope of the piece.

To try to touch on a theme for Phong’s final film, I presented a Kids in the Hall sketch usually known as Girl Drink Drunk.

No bendy straw, no blender, no service

Dave Foley plays a teetotaler who gets a promotion and has his boss insist on buying him a drink, steering him to a Chocolate Choo Choo when he finds that he doesn’t like alcohol.  One Choo Choo leads to another, and Dave ends up fired, on the street, and mixing vodka into milkshakes.  It may not perfectly fit in with the theme of Phong’s film, but all those drinks in carved-out pineapples do so remind one of Hawaii…

And given that Phong is moving to San Diego, it’s only appropriate that his last hurrah be a documentary about surfing.  Riding Giants, directed by Stacy Peralta, is a film that does an impressive job (at least, I think it does, not knowing the subject) of covering the history of big-wave surfing.  In general, the film spends most of its time showing people surfing on waves not meant for human consumption.  After a quick (say, two-minute) piece on the history of surfing it jumps into a sort of three-act mode, interviewing three major innovators in big-wave surfing.

Greg Noll, North Shore, Hawaii

The film starts with Greg Noll, the most visible face among the small crowd who began to surf the North Shore of Hawaii in the 1950s and ’60s.  Noll’s major innovation to the sport was the introduction of the long board, which allowed the surfers to catch the large waves found on the North Shore.  Plus, even in his old age, he seems like a pretty cool dude.

Long board, huge wave

Not much happened in the next 15-30 years in the world of big-wave surfing.  Even Gidget got a minute, which is an indicator of just how little advancement there really was.  But then came Jeff Clark.

Jeff Clark, Mavericks, Half Moon Bay, California (with Noll)

Starting in 1975, Clark (who was a teen at the time) scoped out the huge waves breaking a half a mile off of the coast at the north side of Half Moon Bay in Northern California and decided to give it a try, to great success.  But between the difficulty and the danger and the cold water, nobody else wanted to do it.  Clark spent 15 years surfing the point known as Mavericks alone before the big wave surfers finally descended upon the site.

50 foot waves that break into rocks do not make for safe surfing.

Sadly, Mavericks has had a somewhat sordid history since it became popular, having claimed the lives of world-renowned surfer Mark Foo and at least one other surfer.

The third act of Riding Giants follows Laird Hamilton, who grew up the adopted son of legendary ’60s surfer Bill Hamilton.

Laird Hamilton, Tow-in surfing, "The Wave"

Hamilton grew up in Hawaii and made enough of a name for himself in the surfing scene to land a role in 1987’s “North Shore”, which if you were in high school in the late ’80s, you probably saw.  Even if you didn’t care about surfing.

AAA charges extra for this one...

Hamilton’s first major contribution to big-wave surfing was the introduction of tow-in surfing.  The problem with catching really big waves is that they’re moving really fast, and you’ve got to get your board moving pretty fast to catch them.  The longer the board, the easier it is to catch (hence Greg Noll) but the harder it is to control the board.  Hamilton wanted to catch some really big waves and he and his buddies found that they could bring him up to speed by towing him in, first with an inflatable boat and later on jet ski.  Tow-in allowed not only big waves, but smaller, more agile boards and represents the most recent revolution in surfing.

"When Laird Hamilton rode 'The Wave' "

Hamilton’s second major contribution is apparently usually known in the surf community by the title in the photo above.  At the Teahupo’o reef off of Tahiti on August 17th, 2000 Laird Hamilton caught, via the tow-in method, what is widely regarded as the greatest wave ever caught.  Umm, look at it.  The wave was so huge he was grabbing the wall with the wrong hand.  And despite the fears of his tow-in partner, Hamilton survived (sad news for those of you obsessed with his volleyballer wife Gabrielle Reece).

Kids, don’t try this…well, you can’t try this at home.  But don’t try this…anywhere.  Unless there’s a Wii surfing program.  That’s probably not so dangerous.

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