MILESAGO - Film
|MORNING OF THE EARTH|
RELEASE YEAR: 1972
PRODUCER: David Elfick
SOUNDTRACK: Warner Bros WS20004, 1972 (LP)
"Many film-makers have attempted to make surf movies that
get beyond the awesome physicality of the action, and try to tap into the
spirituailty of the sport. Very few have succeeded, and some have been notable
soley for their woeful attempts ... Morning of the Earth was the first, and
still the best film to do this, the surf movie that encapsulates all that is
attractive about surfing."
"When it comes to real hardcore surf travel, Morning of the Earth
sits right up there at the top -- because its message is so pure ... "
Morning of the Earth was a groundbreaking film in its day and it remains one of the seminal works of the surf film genre. It was Albie Falzon's first film and was filmed entirely by him and edited with the help of Ubu alumnus Albie Thoms. It was made in 1971-72 with money from Tracks (the surfing magazine Falzon ran at the time) and finished with the help of a $30 000 government grant.
Before beginning Morning of the Earth, Falzon served an apprenticship of sorts with the father of the Australian surf movie, the legendary Bob Evans. With Paul Witzig (who directed some of the seminal works of the genre) Evans began importing US surf movies and screening them at his own expense. Evans also ran Surfing World magazine, and this experience led him into making his own films.
Falzon became involved with Surfing World after submitting photos of local surfers from his home on the NSW Central Coast. Evans liked his work and invited him to join the magazine, which in turn led to Falzon into helping Evans with his films. The two learned the craft of film-making together by first-hand experience, since neither had any prior experience or training. Those first films were successful enough for Evans to abandon his public relations job and spend the rest of his life working in the Australian surf media.
From Surfing World, Falzon moved on to Tracks, a new surfing magazine he started with David Elfick and John Witzig, brother of Paul Witzig. It soon became established as Australia's surfing 'bible'. Falzon was already interested in making a feature-length surf film and saw the new magazine as a good way of getting it off the ground.
Falzon -- a keen surfer himself -- travelled to Bali, Hawaii and along the east coast of Australia to film some of the world's leading surfers in action. In August of that year Falzon travelled to Bali for the Indonesian sequence of the film and documented the first western surfers to ride the world-class waves at Uluwatu. In doing this, Falzon helped to put Bali on the map as a major new destination for western surfers and tourists.
the film includes psychedelic shots of waves, country soul surfing, a trip to Indonesia in search of new surf locations and the annual winter contests in Hawaii. Many aspects of the films production and promotion were innovative. It was the first surfing documentary presented without narration and without titles to identify the surfers or locations.
Albie Falzon: "Most surfing films up to that time had been films that had this corny dialogue. They were artificial in content. They were slightly glamorised in that they focused on personalities. And what we did is -- we tried to present surfers not as personalities, but as integral parts of the surfing community."
MOTE had no major distributor, so Falzon and Elfick had to "four-wall" the film, taking it all over Australiaa, hiring local halls and theatres to screen it. It was a major success, earning over $200,000 on its first release (equivalent to approx. $2 million today). In doing this Falzon and Elfick followed the lead of Alby's mentor Bob Evans, who with Paul Witzig had pioneered the four-walling of imported and local surf films and had built up a small but commerically viable circuit. This was an important precedent for future local film-makers and proved that even a relatively low-budget work like MOTE could enjoy significant financial success without having a recognised distributor, and proved that there was a viable local audience for such films. Other film-makers used the same strategy with great success -- e.g. the Leyland Brothers and Albie Mangeles. It also provided the stepping stone which enabled Elfick to take his next feature, Crystal Voyager, to the Cannes festival, where he was able to sell it to an English distributor, who mounted a sell-out five-week run in London's West End.
The soundtrack was specially created for the film, combining commercial and underground musicians including G. Wayne Thomas, former Groop/Axiom member Brian Cadd and leading Sydney underground group Tamam Shud. It was enormously successful, and even though it received no radio airplay, the soundtrack sold well enought to be awarded a gold album, becoming the first locally-produced soundtrack LP ever to earn such an award.
MOTE set new a visual standard for surf films with its innovative editing and the use of sophisticated post-production techniques, which gave audiences an entirely new view of of the art of surfing, as Albie Thoms notes in his book Surfmovies: The History of the Surf Film in Australia:
"Apart from the outstanding quality of its photography and music, what distinguished this film was an ongoing fluidity, constructed in the rhythms of its editing and re-enforced by its music, which was achieved byusing an optical printer to repeat frames as many as five times, thus slowing the action by as much as 500% and enabling minute variations in wave-riding to be examined in almost timeless detail."
MOTE was also a deliberate attempt to document the emergence of a new surfing sub-culture whose adherents (including Falzon himself) saw surfing as a lifestyle rather than merely a sport, and one which was becoming more spiritually, culturally and environmentally aware. It depicted surfers:
"... growing their own food, living in the country with their chooks
and their dogs, shaping their own boards and surfing beautiful, perfect
waves. As well as promoting surfing as a legitimate alternative lifestyle, it
captured the purity and essense of the sport, made it seem okay to live in a
treehouse on the coast, riding waves all day and fishing for your food."
Albie Thoms: "Morning of the Earth was quite a polemical film at the time because 'soul surfing' was something Alby Falzon felt very strongly about, and it was a real alternative to the commercial world of surfing that was being promoted then, and subsequently took over. This was a little period where hippy values permeated the surfing community, and I guess they decided they wanted to forget competition and the whole commercial paraphernalia of surfing and just make something that was an enjoyable harmony of nature and surfing. It was very hippy I thought, just the whole drop out, get away from the city and pollution, it was one of the early environmental films."
Jeff Lewis: "In all cases, the representations of the surf were textured by
a sub-cultural consciousness which was at times anti-authoritarian, generational and
hedonistic. As with much of the youth culture of the early seventies, the texts
often represent specific and in some respects oppositional language and clothing
styles, as well as promote liberationist attitudes, particularly in relation to
sex, cannabis and music. The influence of the so-called counter-culture
revolution, the antecedent of the hippie movement, is unmistakable in Morning
of the Earth which seems to marry the spiritual aestheticism of the movement
with the physical athleticism of what is essentially an extremely vigorous
Screensound recently commissioned production of a new 16mm print of MOTE.
A premiere screening of the new print was held at Flickerfest, Bondi Pavillion,
Bondi Beach, NSW on 10 January 2004.
|REFERENCES / LINKS|
Morning Of The Earth website
ABC-TV: 'The 7.30 Report'