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I first saw this film in 1978, my father took me to see it with my
at the drive-in as a double feature with "Every Which Way But Loose." It's
movie that I have never forgotten. It combines brilliantly heart gripping
surfing action, heart wrenching emotions, and heart uplifting humour, all
set against the back-drop of the Vietnam War, teenagers growing up, the
wisdom of elders (Bear) and of course, the surfing.
I've never surfed a minute of my entire life (although whenever I watch this, I feel like I should), so don't think of this as a "surf movie". It simply is an excellent piece of cinematic history that you will feel you missed on if you never see it.
Recommended with 2 thumbs way way way up.
"This movie is too good for surfers." Quentin Tarantino was asked about "Big Wednesday" once and this was his answer. Tarantino grew up in southern California and surfers, he says, were mean to him and his friends. Tarantino, however, knows a good movie when he sees one. This truly is Hollywood's "perfect wave", the only time the surf culture was portrayed accurately in a studio film. The surf community consistently refers to this film with reverence, citing it's depiction of the "soul" of surfing as being worthy of their hallowed endeavors in the water. After years of Frankie and Annette or, God forbid, Keanu Reeves, this is one they can be proud of. Writer-director John Milius was a surfer himself referring to it again in his most celebrated screenplay for "Apocalypse Now" ("Charlie don't surf!"). One of the keys to this film's authenticity is the fact that the three stars did a lot of their own surfing. Actually seeing their faces as they stand up for a ride is a bonus. William Kaat, Jan-Michael Vincent and Gary Busey (actually pretty big names from this era) were accomplished surfers, Busey learning for the role. The fine cast is rounded out by cuties Lee Purcell and Patti d'Arbanville and Sam Melville as the mystical mentor Bear. Keep your eyes peeled for legendary surfer Gerry Lopez, "Perry Mason"'s Barbara Hale, future Freddy creep Robert Englund, Larry Talbot from "Miami Vice" and Charlene Tilton and Steve Kanaly who both ended up on "Dallas". If you ever had a group of friends who did stuff together, you'll find this film has a lot of depth and soul. As Matt says after riding Big Wednesday "we drew the line". The three friends have validated the thing that consumed them as young men, that is riding waves and promising to be together when the big one hit. But they also acknowledge the need to embrace adulthood and put surfing where it should be. As Bear himself said "nobody surfs forever". Sad but true. It applies to all of us, no matter what we do.
Down the street from my house is a restaurant/bar called RT's Longboard grill, which was opened by family as a tribute to a brother lost at sea. Adorning the bamboo laden walls, amongst yesteryear photos, boards, posters, and memorabilia, are TV screens which endlessly show classic surfing movies. The feeling one gets in this environment is similar to what one gets watching Big Wednesday. This isn't a surf movie in the sense of the word. You see, the trendy, infantile children that drunkenly roam the streets of Pacific Beach (where I live in San Diego)for the most part don't have souls, sadly, living in the very town in which many surf legends have been born. Hard pressed to find are the light hearted conversations over a good burger, malt, and a good set of waves. Big Wednesday contains such an epic story. OK... I seem bitter. It's because I am. I know the word "dude" and a nose covered in sunscreen is an easy stereotype... but the spiritual life altering experience behind surfing is most often misunderstood. What is your passion? Do you have one? It may be your children. It may be horses. It may be hockey. But no matter what goes wrong in your life, or who dies or what happens, at the core is your passion (translated : spirituality)... something pure. At the heart of this movie is this purity... and after the draft, relationships, addictions, and just plain adolescent insanity, the characters find that their friendship is still alive because of a common love. Don't try and make too much sense of this review. This isn't a restaurant review. I can't explain the feeling nor would I expect the 95% of America that doesn't live near a surf-able wave to get it...just watch the movie.
This is a great film. I won't say that everyone would like it, because there is always someone who will hate it. But I love this movie and cannot imagine hating it. I watch it again and again, mostly for Jack who is wonderful in his personality and development. I can't rate this highly enough. The surfing scenes are spectacular, and watching the characters slowly mature and try to cope with life as an adult is always worth watching. Seeing Matt in particular struggle with his unwanted hero status and seeing his friends grow up, move away or die is really something to see. What he would have done without the capable, beautiful, indefatigable Peggy is anyone's guess. However, I must say that you either get it or you don't.
What is it about Big Wednesday that inspires so much affection? I won't
repeat the many tributes that have been made here, and yes, I was a
surfer, and yes, this is in my top five of all time movies, and yes, I
watch it about once every eighteen months.
But something others don't seem to mention much is the perfect score that Basil Poledouris wrote for the movie, sound which echoes and complements the action throughout, and reminds me strongly of artists and music of the time like Jack Nitzches "Lonely Surfer", and "Beyond the Break". Not, for heaven's sake, the Beach Boys or Jan and Dean.
But isn't that a big part of good movies? When music, image and story all combine? (Discuss)
The other four of my five are "Andrei Rublev", "If..." "The Piano" "Journey to the Center of the Earth"
A rite of passage film comparable to Stand By Me. The film follows the lives of three men through their late teens and twenties during the troubled period of American history that was the Vietnam war. The bond between these men is exemplified by their shared love for surfing and one another. With creative photography, Jan Michael Vincent (of Airwolf fame), Gary Busey (who makes a sneaky surfing appearance again in Point Break), and William Katt (who went on to star in such films as House) doing much of their own surfing, complemented by a professional team of surfing stunt doubles including Jerry Lopez make this one of the surfing all-time classics along-side Bruce Browns 1966 Endless Summer. Whether you're into surfing or not, you'll enjoy this for its story, feel good factor, and of course the surfing footage. Watch it.
Gary Busey's career high as the insane "Masochist" with the irrisistable quote "More Beer!". Okay, this is a little patchy, but it's beautifully shot and has that old fashioned innocence that most modern teen films lack. The surfing rules and the leading trio is well played. Oh and I forgot to mention, the entire narration is by none other than Elm street's Fred Kreuger, a.k.a Robert Englund, which just makes it uber-cool in my minds eye; but I am biased. A great feel-good movie from when movies still felt pretty good.
A movie about surf, friendship and the hardness in growing
The movie has great surf pictures, great surfers (Gerry Lopez himself), it has a beautiful script and was very well directed.
I think this movie is already a classic for surfers and non-surfers... ;-)
I watch the movie in VHS long ago, and i´m waiting for the DVD (next month)
The lives of some California surfers from the early '60s to the '70s.
Who should have been cast: Jan-Michael Vincent or Jeff Bridges? Well, in retrospect, Bridges might have drawn more acclaim to this picture. But Vincent nails the role, and although not as big of a name, he was the man for the job.
John Milius is known for his conservative, manly films. This does not really mesh with the idea of the surfer, at least until you see this film. Then you understand that the surfer - to Milius - is a libertarian at heart, fighting against the "lifeguard state".
The film features great music, great fights, and a nice cameo from a then-unknown Robert Englund. And heck, this is Gary Busey in his prime.
Interestingly, because the film takes place during the Vietnam War, this acts like something as a counterpoint to "Apocalypse Now", another Milius film. What message are we to get from the two combined?
"Big Wednesday" (1978) is a film that was made for baby boomers.
Writer/director John Milius was born in 1944 and the material draws on
a ten year span of his life from the early 1960's to the early 1970's.
Aside from needing a span of time to qualify as a coming-of-age saga,
it was hoped that the long time span would enable it to connect with
the entire range of boomers (birth dates from 1945-1963). Almost anyone
born during those years will find things in the film they relate
to-even shadow boomers with just the second-hand exposure provided by
their older siblings. Younger viewers should enjoy the spectacular
surfing sequences and might find the other stuff an interesting history
Milius is one of the so-called young auteur directors of the 70's (Coppola, Lucus, Spielberg, Scorsese, De Palma). Unlike the others he did very little after 1984, the year he released "Red Dawn", an embarrassingly moronic and histrionic right-wing propaganda film that alerted an unsuspecting world to his extremist political views. Hollywood insiders already knew about this and the Coen Brothers would use him as a model for John Goodman's character in "The Big Lebowski".
But "Big Wednesday" is his masterpiece and it is unlikely that any other writer/director could have brought this story to the screen this effectively. Unfortunately its surfer subject matter did not draw many non-enthusiasts to the theatre; even though the film is a lot more than surfing, containing a very original universal message about the process of living and changing. Low box office led to a re-edit for pay- television, with the more philosophical content was taken out. The current DVD and VHS are of this shorter version, so if you saw the "Big Wednesday" during its theatrical release you will be somewhat disappointed.
Structured like a four act play with each transition moving the action ahead a couple of years, "Big Wednesday" follows three young surfers in the LA area (Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt and Gary Busey). Each plays a talented surfer with Vincent's character approaching legendary status. Surfing plays a big part in their lives (Bruce Surtees' cinematography provides some of the most stunning views of the sport you are likely to ever see) but much of the film takes place away from the beach; with scenes of parties, the military induction center, Tijuana, family life, and romance (a full range of what growing up in southern California was all about).
Milius' treatment of surfing is reverential and sometimes even mystical, with a sweeping musical score and a local character (Bear) who is a kind of guru for the sport. In a scene cut from the television version Bear explains the origin and significance of the "Big Wednesday" title. Somehow Milius gets all this right and the film transcends what might have been a pretentious exercise in sport glorification.
Milius pays homages to John Ford, initially with the appearance of Ford regular "Hank Worden" as the shopping cart man. Later you see Ford's "The Searchers" (1956) reflected in the relationship between Jack and Peggy, including a scene where Peggy cradles Jack's army uniform in the same manner Martha cradled Ethan's coat. A man and a woman who have had to subordinate their love for each other because of an overriding loyalty.
The final scene is truly special as the three main characters manage a convergence for a final day of surfing together, a scene that recalls the freedom and awe of their teenage years, contrasting it with how removed they have gotten from this former way of life. Anyone who has had to choke back their emotions after a nostalgic rush reminds them of what they will never have again, will be moved my this wonderful sequence.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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