Having previously dug into Seattle grunge (1996's Hype!
) and hip-hop scratch (2001's Scratch
), filmmaker Pray continues his subculture-immersion studies in this revealing portrait of Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, the spiritual father of Israeli surf and the corporeal father of a nine-child surfing dynasty. A Stanford-educated, surf-loving general practitioner who shrugged off bourgeois comforts (and two failed marriages) to go on a religious quest to the promised land and then a fact-finding mission into the “psychosexual development” of the other sex (essentially a one-man, 100-woman fuck-fest), Paskowitz eventually married a third time and adopted a survivalist-style of child-rearing, ever-broke and piled tight into a 24-foot camper. Early in the film, youngest son Joshua laughs: “We were born ’cause Doc wanted to repopulate the world with Jews. That’s fucking hardcore, man.” It’s a light note to start on, but via extensive, eye-opening interviews with the now-adult Paskowitz kids, we realize that for all the seeming mellowness of their nomadic existence, the way of the Doc was hardcore and nothing less, whether it came to diet, sex, or a fast refusal to formally educate his children. Pray lingers a mite too long on exposition; the kids let slip enough warning words – like “controlled environment” and “dictator” – to know that there’s bad news around the bend, and the Paskowitz clan doesn’t entirely differentiate until we learn of their adult trajectories (one can safely say that one man’s self-made utopia may be his offspring’s living hell). Pray maintains a steadfastly objective viewpoint, and it’s a testament to his film’s success that it can accommodate the audience’s inevitably shifting allegiances from one family member to the next. There’s some bad blood there, to be sure; when the estranged family reunites, one can’t help but wonder if it’s at least in part due to the unseen string-pulling of the filmmaker. No matter: Be he a tyrant or a prophet, Doc cuts a relentlessly fascinating figure, and the film’s coda – which reflects on the many ways our world appears irretrievably wrecked – is enough to lend credence if not to Doc’s fringe philosophy, then at least to his simple mantra to live clean, eat clean, and surf clean.