It’s rare for a surf movie to have an impact on mainstream culture. Rarer still for one to have an impact that continues to be felt, decades after its release.
Morning of the Earth is not your average surf movie. Filmed in the early ‘70s around Hawaii, Australia’s east coast and Bali back when it was exotic and largely unknown to Australians, the movie is a beautiful meditation on the simple joy of riding waves, and the culture that went with it.
Four decades from its release, Northern NSW-based writer, filmmaker and musician Andrew Kidman has taken up a challenge to evoke the spirit of Morning of the Earth in a brand new movie.
The result is Spirit of Akasha, which screens this Friday with live accompaniment from musicians including Machine Translations’ Greg Walker, local psych-heroes Sand Pebbles, Mick Turner and Kidman’s band, The Windy Hills. “Everyone just wanted to honour the film,” Kidman says. “They all loved the movie so much they wanted to contribute to it – musicians and surfers.”
The emphasis on music is very deliberate. Beyond footage of the greatest surfers of the time doing their thing in beautiful, empty locations, what made Morning of the Earth resonate with so many people, regardless of their experience of the beach, was its soundtrack.
“It’s so … naive, in a way,” Kidman explains. “If you tried to write songs like that today they’d sound a bit kooky, but back then it was free love, and Australia was at war, too. Songs such as Open Up Your Heart and Simple Ben … what [director] Albe Falzon captured with Morning of the Earth was this freedom and idealism. If you watch it today you think, ‘the world should still be like that’.”
To infuse Akasha with the same sense of escapism, Kidman has given musicians the freedom to respond to the film however they see fit.
“I sent the edits out to the bands with a note telling them to do whatever they feel it needs to make the visual experience come alive,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens. What we’ll see on the stage won’t be seen again.”
As in the original movie, Spirit of Akasha features some of the best surfers of the era, in this case, world champions Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore. Unlike most surf-movie makers, Kidman wasn’t interested in capturing high-performance surfing. Instead, he wanted to see how surfers at the height of their powers would respond to the equipment used in Morning of the Earth.
“I could not see the point of making a period piece which documents Mick and Steph riding the boards we see them surfing every day,” he says of working with Fanning and Gilmore. “I thought it would date the film and that was something I didn’t want to do.”
Different surfboard designs dictate the way a surfer rides a wave, and since the early ‘80s, surfing has been dominated by the three-fin “thruster” design. In the ‘70s, the world’s best surfers shaped their own boards, mostly with a single fin.
“The reason Morning of the Earth looks so different is because of how different the boards were,” Kidman says. “We customised boards for Mick and Stephanie, and tried to make the best single fins we could make for them. I went to Hawaii and Dave Parmenter made Stephanie’s board. He used to make boards for his wife, (female surfing pioneer) Rell Sunn, so I thought he’d have a sixth sense about designing a board for Stephanie, and you can see it in the film – it’s one of the best boards she’s ever ridden, I think.”
The opportunity to showcase surfing in a venue like Hamer Hall is not one that comes around often, but Kidman feels that unlike other sports, there’s an inclusiveness to surfing that helps it resonate beyond its participants. “It’s phenomenal. It’s one of the things about our culture that’s so great. You can share it with other people,” he says. “It’s not like football or tennis, it’s this odd thing, and music is like that as well. It’s hard for music and surfing not to go well together which is why it’s so nice to play to the film, because you disappear when you’re playing, which is the same thing as surfing.”
Arts Centre Melbourne presents Spirit of Akasha: a live music and film experience at 7.30pm, Hamer Hall, on Friday, November 7.
Tickets available from artscentremelbourne.com.