As promised, here's my quick review of The Present: I really enjoyed it. Done.
Just kidding, but please pass the Kool-Aide. I'm a sucker for surf movies that try to accomplish something a little different than what's expected these days, so when Thomas Campbell's voiceover started at the beginning of the film, I immediately got a buzz (and it wasn't from the tall boy I was nursing). It has to be kind of tough to follow-up a film that defined an era of surfing (quadfish, please), but by integrating some of the elements that existed in Sprout and moving forward with profiles on Dane Reynolds and some of the tube-loving ladies in the beginning, it stood apart from the first two flicks in the trilogy.
I didn't really mind the alaia-fest that went down 3/4 of the way in. It's pretty amazing to see how those boards tap into different parts of the wave and glide so simply and smoothly along. It also illustrates how, under the right surfer's feet, almost any board can look effortless, which I'm sure is not the case. But it also makes you wonder about the influence a well-made surf film can have on the surfing masses. Potato chips, fish, hulls, wooden planks. They all look pretty damn fun on perfect waves with world class athletes maneuvering them. But what board is "perfect" for individual surfers who surf average waves is another subject entirely -- one that would make a great movie in itself.
On that note, I actually related most to Michel Junod's sequences in the film. His humility and inability to ham it up for the camera was refreshing and it actually looked like he was riding the right board for his skills/age and the waves in Africa. That single fin looked really fun, especially on this bomb he caught that went forever. I didn't mind that he wasn't throwing buckets off the back. It kind of reminded me of that scene with Dora surfing J-Bay in Litmus or Gerry Lopez in Chile in Brokedown Melody. Great wave knowledge is a radical skill in itself.
A couple things I think could have been better: The voiceovers were a little awkward and hard to understand throughout the picture and I wonder if that had more to do with the crappy sound at the Clinton Street theater than the mix. We'll see when the DVD comes out. I also would have liked to have seen more art, not just by surfy artists like Geoff McFeteridge and Barry McGee, but by Thomas himself or whoever was art directing. Sprout had this amazing aesthetic that reminded me of old jazz album covers in the title sequence (and introducing each section) that I really thought was brilliant. Something like that would have been nice to tie things together artfully. I liked a lot of the music in the film, especially the Mattson 2 who played before the screening, but there weren't as many goosebump-inducing moments musically in The Present. There was even one scene where the guitar wailing was so dissonant that it clashed with the kind of surfing on the screen and I wanted it to stop. But that may have had something to do with the venue as well.
All and all, this was a great surf movie though. The crowd seemed to really enjoy it too. A lot of people were lukewarm on this film and that's cool. Different stokes for different folks. I went into it knowing what I was in for. Not Fellini. Not Scorcese. Not even Jonze or Kaufman. Just a fun surf movie by Thomas Campbell.