Monday, February 07, 2005

HOW I SPENT MY SUNDAY VACATION: Football, Big Breasts, Bigger Waves and a Promise to Do Better Tomorrow

Here it is, about 2:30 a.m., Sunday-- Excuse me, Monday morning-- and my daughter is gonna come knocking at my door in about five hours or less to boot me out of bed and into a new work week. So why am I still at the keyboard? This afternoon I got started writing on an idea that has been eating at me, trying to get out ever since I read the Saturday Los Angeles Times Calendar section yesterday morning. But Super Bowl Sunday intervened, and that's too much distraction for me to try and write with any success. Even though I'm not much of a football fan, I almost always stop down and watch on this day, if for no other reason than the good excuse it provides to invite the in-laws over for a day other than their usual Saturday visit, sit with everybody in the living room, paw at Wheat Thins and bean dip, pay attention to the game, and try not to pay too much attention to the heavily hyped ads.

I did see one, however, a parody of a senatorial censorship hearing in a spot for a web domain registration site called that was, perhaps, the most salacious and subversively funny satire I've seen on television in a while, perfectly placed before the half time show that would doggedly prove to be as noncontroversial as last year's tempest in a teacup was so disastrously otherwise. A lovely woman in a tank top insufficient to deal with her prodigious breasts sits before a government committee trying to convince them she's the right one to star in a commercial for, and in the midst of her pitch she has the wardrobe malfunction to end all wardrobe malfunctions-- one of the thin, thin shoulder straps on her top breaks, and she spends the duration of the ad attempting to hold her top up, her breasts threatening to tumble out at any second, while the aged senators purse their lips, gasp, and grasp for their oxygen masks. Finally, one perturbed, presumably mortified senator says, with a very straight face, "Ma'am, are you aware that you're upsetting the committee?" Amidst all the blackness of self-censorship and general FCC-inspired frigidity in the wake of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake's halftime nonevent-event last year, this was one of the bright spots, and it wouldn't have been half as funny or as pointed had it aired at any time other than exactly when it did.

Oh, yeah, the game was kinda sloppy, but it got very interesting there at the end, and would have been even more so if not for that fat lob of an on-side kick that the Eagles offered up to the Patriots in the last two minutes, and of course Donovan McNabb's final intercepted pass (he threw three) that proved to be the loud slam of the door on this year's NFL season. Don't get me wrong-- I'm not an Eagles fan, any more than I am a Patriots fan. I'm not a fan of the NFL at all, actually-- the first games I watched all season were the ones two weeks ago that got these teams to Jacksonville, Florida for today's overamplified spectacle. I just liked the drama of the final three minutes or so of this game and wanted to see it extended, no matter what team won. But now Tom Brady has Super Bowl trophy number three, and I guess McNabb still has his Campbell's Chunky Soup endorsement, along with the promise of next year to provide ample motivation.

As for me, I have only my memories of another misspent Sunday enjoying my beautiful girls to sustain me through the guilt of putting off my writing-- my youngest is very daddy-centric these days, which could change at any moment, so I'm soaking it up while I can. And, of course, there was the leftover bean dip to put in the refrigerator before it transmogrified into something even more unspeakable than the form that it bore when the vacuum seal on its container was first popped. But all that's taken care of now, I've finished my other work-- you know, the kind for which I actually get paid-- and now I'm just noodling around, turning over ideas in my head for the big piece that I promise will get finished and posted tomorrow, trying to type off the effects of that 16 oz. Diet Rockstar energy drink I quaffed about two hours ago. (That stuff is a little bit of liquid magic, but annoying as hell at a moment like this one.)

But before I go, a tip of the hat to my friend Doug who, without solicitation of any kind, lent me the DVD of Stacy Peralta's Riding Giants last week. Peralta is the director of another documentary you may have heard of, about the origins of the Venice skateboarding scene, called Dogtown and Z-Boys. That movie was energetic, engaging and showcased a roster of interesting characters, but since Peralta was one of them, and the movie documented, as part of its story, his connections to the business end of this now-huge empire and its mythology, it ended up with an inescapably self-aggrandizing edge that took the shine off of the fun for me. Riding Giants documents another history, that of the surfing movement that began in Hawaii and migrated to California, and back again to Hawaii, and it is a stunning well-made and exhilarating ride. Peralta uses extensive footage shot by these surfers in the 50s and 60s-- it's amazing, and fortunate for Peralta and us, that these guys were so self-aware and took so much 16mm film of themselves-- and augments it with hilarious and vivid interviews featuring seminal figures like Greg Noll and Jeff Clark, two guys who may have known they were pioneers of sorts, but did not surf because they were breaking ground (or waves), but because they needed to, because they had to, because they finally simply didn't know what else to do.

The movie follows the sport's development-- men catching waves previously thought to be unsurvivable, and the inevitable tragedy that followed (the drowning loss of well-known surfer Greg Yoo)-- through to its modern "extreme" incarnation at the hands of men like Laird Hamilton, and it comes as close as I would think possible to translating and making understandable the obsessive core of the surfing lifestyle to someone like myself, who has trouble staying upright getting out of the bathtub. Peralta uses computer-enhanced imagery that turns some of the incredible photography of these men and the waves they conquer into dioramas that the camera weaves into and through, at times giving the movie a kind of heady disorientation, a palpable approximation of being on the water, and a more visceral appreciation of the physics and the grandeur of what it is these guys are doing. But even the conventionally shot footage is dynamically assembled, with a keen and incredible sense of the geography of landscapes that are never still, always undulating, changing shape.

I was grateful for Peralta's giving what is essentially a straightforward chronology the kind of energy he does through simple enthusiasm and conviction. And he's lucky that his interview subjects convey the same qualities-- every time Noll pops on screen, for instance, is a profane delight, and the movie's already substantial energy spikes. Riding Giants knows its subject can hold its own and serves it well, and it never devolves into the kind of wacky anecdotal diversions that ended up derailing last year's sporadically fascinating but far less successful Step Into Liquid. Peralta's movie is the real deal, steeped in reverence for the sport, but also an appreciation of the slightly cracked sense of propulsive grandeur that seems common amongst all these men. It also has, for a movie that has as one of its interview subjects the blowhard film director John Milius, who immortalized his own obsession with surfing in his film Big Wednesday, a blessed sense of perspective-- it never tries to sell you on its protagonists as misunderstood seekers of spiritual truth or wisdom gained by skimming down the face of a 30-foot curl. But the vision of these guys tackling these great moving mountains of water speaks for itself; the overwhelming sensory experience Riding Giants offers in these moments clarifies rational fears about nature but also allows for the possibility of the kind of unarticulated enlightenment that may be, for some, integral to why they challenge the waves, fully knowing the dangers, but also knowing the potential each new one offers.

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