Time was, there were rules to the way a surf movie was made. It may have been an unstated pact between filmmakers and moviegoers, based on the understanding that surfers are not necessarily the most discriminating or intellectual audience. So: keep it simple, go to bikini-clad locations, get star surfers to ride beautiful waves while the narrator explains everything that’s going on. Throw in some up-tempo music, a yuck-it-up comedy skit involving a metre-long sandwich or a pelican, a wipe-out sequence and a big-wave grand finale. Worked every time: everybody happy.
Somewhere along the way, probably around the time that a lot of people were definitely inhaling, somebody decided to fool with the formula. The surf movie genus suddenly had a whole new species characterised by art and enigma, unexplained cutaway shots apparently loaded with meaning, and music that often refused to lend itself to the stomp. Say goodbye to the old school; the future had arrived.
Decades on, the art department is still top of the surf movie pile, if Taylor Larison’s Something to Ponder is anything to go by. Or at least it might be. It’s hard to say, because the film is so determinedly . . . er . . . unconcerned with convention.
You may know Larison’s Birdman Media work from such titles as the Noosa-heavy Koala Khronicles or the women surfer essay Say No More. Those movies had plenty of free spirit, but Something to Ponder has a reckless abandon about it that is hard not to admire.
From the opening mash-up of old TV shows and advertisements, road shots, white noise and test patterns, Something to Ponder strikes out into territory that’s not so much unknown as heavily camouflaged. In the movie’s press release, Larison describes it as “surfing below the radar on waves that rarely show up in mainstream media”, the tone of the film set by “raw cinematography combined with some of the best up and coming longboard surfers”.
So the locations are Larison’s South California backyard: unnamed point peelers that you’ll probably recognise, and a few heavier waves including some macking left-handers from a serious storm swell. The surfing is confident and interesting throughout, and weighted towards new age logging. It’s a showcase for local movers and shakers like Noah Shimabukuro, Mike Stidham, Josh Seemann, Noah Cardoza, David Arganda, Tommy Witt, Kaimana Takayama, Ricky Cunningham, and many more. Maybe not all household names, but all deserving of their time on screen.
As for the cinematography, “raw” or not, Larison knows what he’s doing with the camera. It’s in the post-production and editing that he heads off in another direction. There are different tints of monochrome, split screens, a little over-exposure here, some superimposed imagery there – plenty to keep the conversation lively.
The cutting room is meant to be the place where a movie’s character, its order, is established. Something to Ponder has an order – or lack of order – all its own. Shifting locations is one thing; shifting mindsets is another, especially with the apparent whimsy at play here. The surf action is intercut with an intriguing selection of ‘found’ images: a trumpet-playing bear, performing goats, a squirrel snake-killer, an animated river-borne lumberjack. Maybe the narcotised ambient soundtrack and the Caddyshack stoner footage are clues?
It all adds up to the perfect movie for a surf-focussed excursion from reality. Fire it up and melt into the sofa; it’s every bit as mind-expanding as the Rizla-wrapped alternative.
Taylor Larison says his film has “a message that transcends well beyond the line-up.” He’s certainly been very deliberate in creating something very random. Why? That’ll be something to ponder while you’re sinking into Something to Ponder.