Steve Shearer recently published this review on Swellnet:
"We are the measure of all things. And the beauty of our creation, of our Art is proportional to the beauty of ourselves, of our Souls."
"I'm intrigued in the ideal of surfers who are so enchanted by the sea.....who are so grateful for the gift of waveriding....who are so affected by the exchange, that they are actually upon the journey of becoming Seaworthy."
Like the cover quote from Morning of the Earth, filmaker Nathan Oldfield effectively maps out his philosophical domain with the opening voiceover in his latest film Seaworthy. His premise: that it is more important why you surf than how you surf; that surfing can be a vehicle for a more connected and enlightened worldview is lent a piercing poignancy by the tragic event in Oldfield's own life which is the raw heart of pure emotion around which this film revolves.
In a very real sense this film is Oldfield's love poem for his departed daughter and the ocean which gave him solace during the grieving and healing process after that tragic event. I sense that in this visual and very personal ode the surfers and the surfing are almost incidental add-ons, bit players in a drama of a much grander scale.
But as this is a surfing film, there are waves and surfers within so lets evaluate the film briefly on that basis.
The surfing encompasses just about the whole spectrum of wave-riding equipment available today, from massive flatrockered wooden Olo's to fish, modern and traditional longboards, surfmats, boogie boards, short stubby single-fins, wooden toothpicks etc etc. As pointed out by Tom Wegener in graphic fashion some of these craft are incredibly difficult to ride, and this fact alone will probably prevent a new fashion springing up based on this film.
This catholic approach to documenting various craft will undoubtedly draw comparisons with the work of Thomas Campbell (of Sprout fame). But while Campbell's visual signature is slick, Oldfield's is more ragged and loose, dare I say it, more Australian. And while Campbell's tone is flippant and saccharine, Oldfield's film strikes deeply into a fundamental tenet of the Australian surfing mood: a deep and sometimes bitter melancholy, an almost agonizing sense of loss heightened by the beauty and energy of the pursuit of riding waves.
It's the bone-deep feeling lingering in Morning of the Earth as we watch Michael Peterson streaking down the line at Kirra, laying down the fundamental blueprint for generations of Australian surfers while the lyric says it all "life ain't great, and I'm always late, and I got nowhere to fall...but it sure feels good". Within our lifetimes both these icons of Australian surfing have been crippled beyond recognition.
The message is clear: what is beautiful rests forever on the knife edge of oblivion.
At the heart of this film lies the death of Oldfield's daughter and the making of Noelani as tribute, testament and way out of the ashes of despair for Oldfield. It's deeply personal and will act as a litmus for people watching the film. Some will find it highly affecting and in this state the second half of the film, which charts a return to joy, will be satisfying beyond it's ambitions as a surf film. Others will turn away, unable in our superficial world to come to terms with the real human emotion portrayed.
For this courage alone, I salute Mr Oldfield.
For mine the second half of the film contains the highlights of the surfing action. An extended section filmed in dubious surf and light in an urban area of Sydney (I'm sure Thomas Campbell wouldn't even have bothered loading film in the camera for it) with longboards fused perfectly with a high energy jazz track. The surfing was hypnotic, theatrical, Dionysian. Still, the effect seemed greater than the sum of its parts.
A quick email exchange with the filmmaker provided the missing clues: the location was Collaroy, scene of Nat Young's apprenticeship to the world stage, and the spirit of place and person seemed to infuse the surfing, filmmaking and music in an inspiring symbiosis. One can feel the energy, excitement and innocence of that remarkable age.
Not long after that we are introduced to a fellow named Heydon Bunting, who rides a wide variety of craft in a wide variety of conditions. What's remarkable is that he is in the film at all. Remarkable in a good way.
Every Australian surfer who's worth their salt knows someone like Haydon. Someone loosely wound, eccentric in the most down to Earth way. A character who does it his way regardless of the prevailing winds of fashion. Characters that have been scrubbed out of the modern documented surfing experience by the hyper-corporatised world of advertorial and commercial free-surfers.
That point brings me to the concluding observation of this review. Watching this film at night, as the last image flashed on the screen and the credits began to roll, a violent thunderstorm struck, with a tremendous gust of wind blowing through the open door. Rushing outside to batten down the hatches, it seemed that somehow there was a connection with this event and Seaworthy.
It rattled around in the rusty can of my mind for a few days before a morning surf check put into words the feeling I knew sub-consciously. Seaworthy is like a gust of wind from a storm, a fresh wind free from the taint of surf commerce. There are no jowled men in surf attire standing behind Oldfield in the edit suite during the making of Seaworthy, making sure the subtle logos and product placement shots make the final cut.
This film stands - like Oldfield himself - as a visual document of our connection with the ocean and it's ability to make us more pure of heart. // STEVE SHEARER
Needless to say, it's nice when someone really, really gets your work.