View From A Blue Moon

Review by Jamie Tierney

Nearly every surf biopic has this moment near the beginning:  The subject is surfing as a child. He’s small, slight, awkward. The footage is grainy and jerky, likely shot by a parent wielding a hand held VHS camcorder.  You can see the budding talent, but you get queasy watching it for more than a few seconds.

Now contrast that with the opening of the new highly anticipated John John Florence film, View From a Blue Moon.  We begin with Florence as pre-teen frolicking in the shorebreak in front of his house at Pipeline. Yet instead of shitty VHS, we see gorgeous 16mm film of young John and friends shot by legendary water cinematographers Don King and Sonny Miller.  Jack Johnson sings a song he wrote about John that plays over the scene. Johnson is Florence’s neighbor and an “Uncle” he’s known all his life.  The surfing talent we see on display isn’t budding at all. It’s already fully formed. The point of all this? John John Florence has been a star for his entire life. He was preordained to star in the most epic surf film ever made.

Surf films are funny things. Big Wednesday isn’t really a surf film. It’s a Hollywood movie about surfers. The Endless Summer, Riding Giants, and Step Into Liquid aren’t really either—at least by current standards. They’re surfing themed documentaries. Surf movies are basically music videos filled with epic wave riding and scenic b-roll. The Morning of the Earth, Momentum and Modern Collective–those are surf movies.  No real story in any of those. View From a Blue Moon is a surf film through and through.

After the childhood section and a longish roll through the opening credits, VFMB transitions into a Wes Anderson inspired sequence where we get know more about John-John. The section is perfectly shot and edited, and features some snappy voice over from the actor John C. Reilly, but it feels a bit perfunctory. Frothing groms who buy the movie on iTunes will probably fast forward through it to get to the real reason they spent their allowance money on the download. Which is, of course, the action.

And it doesn’t disappoint. John John hasn’t won a world title. He somehow hasn’t even won the Pipeline Masters yet, but he’s the best surfer in the world. No one can match his combination of pop, balls, flow, creativity and casual steeze. The surf world has waited a very long time for the next Kelly Slater, but VFABM, shows that we’ve finally got him and his name is John Florence. John John probably won’t win 11 world titles. I don’t think anyone will, but he really is THAT good.  VFABM isn’t his version of Kelly Slater: Black and White, it’s much, much better. 1992 feels like a hundred years ago. The production quality of Black and White looks Stone Age in comparison.

Word on the street is the VFABM budget was upwards of the $2 million mark. It’s clear that an arsenal of Red cameras, helicopters, the guiding hand of top notch production company Brain Farm, and a young action obsessed director/editor in Blake Vincent Kueny gets you very, very far in 2015.  It’s a transcendent subject like Florence, though, that ties it together. You can’t take your eyes off him for the hour long running time.  He’s a comet.

When the movie’s over it’s hard to remember individual moments. It’s almost blinding. The audience I watched it with at the advance screening was nearly too stunned to clap afterwards. The Q&A following with Florence and Kueny was filled with questions searching for context. John John and his movie will win Surfer Poll for best movie, best performance, best cinematography – best everything. His fans will watch it, hundreds, if not thousands of times. They will get know him from it as an incredible surfer, but not as a person. And that seems to be the way he wants it to be.

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