What did Kai Neville mean by ‘an excursion into the absurd’? The description of his new film, Dear Suburbia, gave little away. And yet, as the film rolled tonight in Huntington Beach, on the street outside the Shorebreak Hotel, the absurdity of it quickly became apparent. It’s absurd that progressive surfing has reached its current apex. It’s absurd that Kai still makes films that define and perfectly snapshot that level. It’s absurd what John Florence does. And, most of all, it’s absurd what Dane Reynolds does.
The cheeky organ stabs of Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand plucked the crowd outta the opening montage (no surfing just yet, thanks). That art you’ve seen, with the block colour backgrounds and attractive, bread-wearing women or vegetable-wearing robots? They bridge each section, and scooped the occasional giggle from the street crowd watching the huge inflatable screen Kai had opted for. Not a poor choice for a premiere, by the way, especially in Huntington, and especially to compliment the art aesthetic of deck chairs on turf. What other city would close off an entire street for a surf film maker from the Gold Coast? None! Huntington Beach is surf city, and proud!
Once the first section wrapped and the crowd retrieved their jaws from the footpath, more mindblowingness happened. Taj Burrow maintained his relevance in the world of innovation. Kolohe Andino flexed his carrot and cloud-coloured suit over West Oz sections like you couldn’t imagine. Jack Freestone and Jack Robinson, so different in size and style, both killed it, in different sizes and styles. Whether or not it came inspired by the few similar snippets from Dane’s latest MarineLayer clips, Kai opted for more water footage in Dear Suburbia than he has, well, ever (but is still used sparingly). There was windy Barbados, a trip with wave quality that led to cries of being ‘skunked’. Did that stop John Florence? Nothing stopped John Florence. He missed the memo about backside airs being landed fins-first, and skipped to the end with full-rotes every time. He revelled in big, reverse-Chopes style Japanese barrels, from which he’d emerge looking back at the foamball. Dane’s best work was, perhaps, during one of the three songs that gave life to the Japan footage, or during the New Zealand section (set to the Vice City-esque synth drone of John Maus’ Cop Killer). Wearing a Hawaiian shirt in Japan, the Venturan linked from full-rote oops into air-reverses with incomprehensible flow and reasserted, as if he needed to, why he’s the world’s best freesurfer. Chopper footage made a rare cameo, as did some moving portraits (shot on a boat in Indo) and a lack of candid quotes, noticeable in their absence but not totally missed. Chippa Wilson, Conner Coffin, Jay Davies, Craig Anderson, Mitch Coleborn, Dillon Perillo, Evan Geiselman, Dion Agius and Yadin Nicol all deserved their very desirable spots in a Kai Neville production. The closing segments contained footage as good as any other in the film.
Not much more can be said without ruining the fun, but know this: If this is to be his third act, following the hard-to-follow Modern Collective and Lost Atlas, then Dear Suburbia is surely Kai Neville’s pièce de résistance.