And so it is finally upon us. Everyone’s favorite ambivalent savior, Dane Reynolds, has focused his million-dollar, lo-fi aesthetic on the free surfer of the moment, Craig Anderson, to give us Slow Dance. One might be tempted to call it a biopic if Reynolds and Anderson weren’t so sheepish about such words. As it is, let’s call it a slice of life with a knowing shrug. It marks Reynolds’ first foray behind the lens since Thrills Spills and What Not three years ago. He edited this one, and, one suspects, had a hand in the general feel, but he was helped in his endeavors by a squad of filmers, photographers and, oh yea, the guy driving the helicopter for the aerial shots.
I mention the chopper shots, because it’s evident right off the bat that Reynolds wants this to feel like a home video that was basically thrown together on a whim and a shrug. It is what it is, you know. The thing is, it’s not. It’s a professional production utilizing some of the best lensmen in the game on relatively large budgets. They’ve all done a stellar job, so the air of nonchalance that hangs on the thing rings hollow.
Happily, the surfing and cinematography are top notch. The second section in particular where Anderson is punting airs in backlit, slow motion is easily one of the scenes of the year. From the POV of the water photographer, Anderson is nothing but a black silhouette against a mottled morning sky. There is nothing but form and beauty, limbs placed just so, fingers playing an imaginary piano, knees crooked inwards in that trademark demure, almost feminine posture, spinning, spinning. Even the slow motion water droplets offer a moment of contemplative bliss.
The third section is also an instant classic. It juxtaposes clips of Anderson riding a left point break with clips of his forebear, Rob Machado, doing the same. The two style masters go wave for wave in a breathless display of hustle and flow. Machado is more precise, his taller but equally wiry frame is coiled slightly tighter. He flits around the wave with the meticulousness of a dragonfly. Anderson is just that little bit looser, not so much riding the entire wave as looking for big sections to blow out the fins or take to the sky. Just the same, he and Machado remain two of the last great surfers who ride their boards instead of the wave. If you contrast them with Kelly Slater, whose entire career has been about minimizing the board to the point where it is almost non-existent, who would walk on water if only God would allow him, their uniqueness comes into focus. Even the “cruisy” Reynolds, in his few clips, looks like a man out to punish the wave with a blunt force tool. Anderson and Machado endeavor only to create. Dare we call it art? On a couple of waves, I am sorely tempted.
“He surfs like a little giraffe falling from the womb,” says Ozzie Wright of Mr. Anderson – as apt a description as was ever spoken, but perhaps failing to capture the beauty of what happens when Anderson stands up. What it does speak to is a singular style whose apparent wobbliness and seat-of-your-pants serendipity make Anderson’s surfing mesmerizing. If Mark Richards was the Seagull, Anderson, who echoes the four-time world champ, should be called the Little Giraffe.
As a welcome departure from Thrills, Spills and What Not, Reynolds nails the soundtrack in a way that manages to feel offbeat, yet entirely on beat. Sun Ra, Can, Dur Dur Band, Half Japanese, Tussle, and Swirlies are some of the artists who offer light, groovy music that, even if you don’t want to listen to while at a faux-dive-bar sipping a PBR, you will enjoy on the film.
Aside from the Wright quote about African fauna, there isn’t much to say about voice-over interviews either because much of it expresses extreme ambivalence to, well, everything – in the way an angsty teenager might when you give him some marijuana then ask a few serious questions. Sample:
Ando: Why does anyone do anything the way they do it? I don’t know. It’s a hard question to answer.
Dane: Maybe there is no answer.
Ando: Why do you drive a Volvo?
Dane: Why do you ride a single fin?
Ando: Why is your hair parted to the side?
Dane: Why is your hair long?
Ando: Why does anyone do anything the way they do it?
Justin Bieber concert DVDs have more insightful dialogue. That said, one thought that made an impression is that Anderson has no problem calling himself a “perfectionist.” In a world where everything must be downplayed, this is groundbreaking. Although he claims to gravitate towards “humble people,” it’s clear that Anderson very much holds himself to a higher standard. This only resonated with me on the second watching when I noticed a scene in the beginning taken from the Anderson family home video shelf in which his father films him doing front flips off a diving board. Little Craig doesn’t complete his rotation and instead of laughing, his father says, “That was a bum flop. You must tuck your legs in.” When he tries it again and again flops onto his back, his father says: “That was even worse than the first one.”
What emerges from this film is a portrait of two extremely driven men who are working very hard to make everything seem like a giant lark – rabid devotion hidden under a thin skein of fecklessness. At one point, they dissolve into a fit of stoner laughter and you are left wondering exactly what, or who they are laughing about. What is undeniable is Anderson’s skill and vision on the face of the wave. On his last ride in the second section, the sun has risen fully and his face appears over his shoulder mid-360. There is a look there that is more real than any of the others that he knowingly mugs for the camera. His jaw is set, his eyebrows are furrowed and his tongue is pushing against the inside of cheek as if even it is willing him around. It takes a perfectionist to bring that type of intensity to anything. You can almost hear his father telling him to tuck his legs.