Step Into Liquid
Directed by Dana Brown. (2003, NR, 87 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 5, 2003
Bruce Brown’s 1966 documentary on surfing and the surfing lifestyle, The Endless Summer, was the first film to truly connect the dots between surf culture and the American mindset of its time. Shot and compiled over several years – and, upon release, often slotted into Deep South summertime drive-ins where the closest surf was actually hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away – The Endless Summer still stands as one of the greatest sporting documentaries of all time. Its vivid, groundbreaking shots of previously unknown surf heroes riding the wild wave all over the globe single-handedly introduced what was then something of an outlaw sport to the masses and sparked a deep-blue revolution that continues unabated today. Brown’s 1994 follow-up, The Endless Summer 2, returned to a handful of his previous locations and surfers 30 years on and proved that the more things change, at least in the surf rat’s world, the more they stay the same. Step Into Liquid continues the Brown family tradition – director Dana is Bruce’s son and served as writer and editor on The Endless Summer 2 – but ratchets up the stunning visuals to near-orgasmic levels. Truly, this is one documentary that simply must be seen on the biggest, loudest theatre screen you can track down; scrunched into a boxy home-video frame, Brown’s sprawling film loses much of its thunderous potency. But there’s potency to burn, really. Like his father before him, the younger Brown doesn’t limit his quest to Hawaii or the surf-mad SoCal coastline, instead traveling to the coast of Ireland (with the laconic Malloy brothers, who return to their native soil to catch the fabled waves of old Eire) and off the Texas coast, where hulking supertankers allow local hodads to ride their backwash like a skateboarder precariously hanging on to a passing automobile. There are interviews with surfing legends like Gerry Lopez, of course, but Brown also makes sure to focus on the newer aspects of this 2,000-year-old water sport (such as tow-surfing, where surfers are pulled out to previously unsurfable "gi-mungous" waves on the backs of water skis) and originals like Dale Webster, who’s literally surfed every day for the past three decades in an effort to make 10,000 consecutive days of surfing. ("Family should come first," he wryly notes, "but thankfully my family realizes that this is what I need.") All of this would constitute something of a retread of the first two Brown family movies, however, were it not for the technological leaps made in film over the past decade or so. Brown’s movie is a miraculous, jaw-dropping, and, frankly, inspiring collection of once-in-a-lifetime surfing sequences filmed from dangerously low-flying helicopters and with special camera gear that allowed him to actually be inside the curling lip of a titanic wave and deep below the surface of the water itself, buffeted but unbowed by the primal forces at work as tiny little legs skim the surface above. Absolutely unlike any documentary you’ve ever seen, Step Into Liquid nearly qualifies as a religious experience.