Surf films are a unique genre in of themselves, never really becoming a documentary or glorified music video. Instead, what began with Endless Summer in 1966 has become a small niche industry, usually only consumed by the hardcore fans. But with A View From A Blue Moon (2015), even a surfing novice has to appreciate the mastery of what is likely to go down as the greatest surfing film ever made.
The film portrays itself as a biopic on John John Florence, but while the start certainly deals with him and his life in Hawaii, it is the director that is the true star of the film. Blake Kueny, in only his second full feature length film, demonstrates an incredible ability to get shots that have never been seen in 50 years of filming surfing.
Much of this is thanks to the use of a helicopter, a technique probably soon to be replaced by drones. A View From A Blue Moon is arguably the most expensive surf film ever made and took three years to complete. It a labor of love for Kueny and Florence, who had to schedule filming around a busy World Surf League season. The issues of waiting for the right conditions and getting cameras set up also meant they had to almost plan what they wanted on a wave before they filmed it.
The sheer beauty of the film is astounding and makes up for any loss of surfing authenticity. Whether it is slow motion crashing waves, airborne tracking shots, or underwater camera work, the film keeps taking your breath away the longer it goes on. The film visits countries all over the world as John John Florence showcases his skill on a variety of waves. This road trip element in places such as South Africa and Brazil allows the viewer to catch their breath before barrelling into another song and wave.
The music of the film may be somewhat surprising for those who like to stereotype surfers. Instead of the Ukulele, or hard rock of our prejudice, there was immersive synth pop by Jack Johnson. It was perfectly placed in a film that showcased the modern version of surfing that exists now. Whether it is Florence himself, the way it is filmed, or the music, this film felt fresh and like surfing has evolved and moved on. Quite an achievement considering it is set in a tried and tested film format.
There have been other successful films in the past. Billabong Odyssey in 2003 was well received and included a ground-breaking shot of Mike Parsons surfing a monster wave as the camera zooms out to reveal the true size of it. But A View From A Blue Moon is different and it does not adhere to the idea that bigger is better. Some of the best shots of the film aren’t even surfing, it is the underwater shots of churning waves and turtles that makes you want to join the world of John John Florence.
A View From A Blue Moon hopefully starts a trend for big-budget extreme sports films and this way of mixing art and skill. For too long movies about extreme sports were not much more than glorified music videos, but this project has shown how great cinematography and direction can turn surf from a sport into a film genre all on its own.