John John Florence sat on the stairs of a Hollywood movie studio viewing room. Industry types and media professionals perched in plush, reclining leather chairs but John settled for the staircase to the side – his chin silently resting in his palms like he was deep in thought, a nondescript hoodie swaddling his bushy blonde mop of a head. It was the first time that he, and the world for that matter, would see the completed version of his full-length feature film, View from a Blue Moon.
In the age of the Internet, feature-length surf films are out of the ordinary; instead people watch clips online lasting only a few minutes, satisfying their social-media-shortened attention spans. But John’s newest flick is an hour long affair, which is undoubtedly an anomaly. It’s also pegged as a documentary, focussing solely on Mr. Florence. This, too, is disparate when it comes to surf cinema of late. Full-length surf films – few and far between as they may be – feature multiple sections typically dedicated to a single surfer. Cluster, Strange Rumblings in Shangri La, Modern Collective – these are examples of the biggest films from past years and they all feature the same format of opening free-for-all froth sequence followed by individual sections.
What’s more is the time, production, and budget spent making View. It took JJF and director Blake Kueny three years to finish, they paired up with Brain Farm (masterminds behind The Art of Flight and That’s It, That’s All) who specialize in helicopters and ultra hi-def cinematography, and who knows the exact ungodly figure that was swiped on Bob Hurley’s Black Card after all was said and done.
Add up all the eccentricities and novelties of this film and you’ve got the be-all, end-all, most visually orgasmic addition to the canon of surf cinema ever. And that’s what Kueny and Florence wanted, hence the name View from a Blue Moon. (Blue Moons are rare natural occurrences when the lunar cycle reaches its peak twice in a calendar month).
So once the lights began to dim in that Hollywood film studio, the silent anticipation from Florence, Kueny, and the rest of the room was more like a screaming freight train. This was a moment in surf history. Here are a few thoughts and observations on the film:
1. John C. Reilly is a fan of surfing.
Yes, that lovable idiot, the “curly-headed fuck” from Step Brothers is into surfing…or at least his son is, apparently. That’s how Kueny and Florence locked in the actor as narrator for the film, which at first is somewhat jarring, but ultimately ends up a perfect fit.
2. Make sure to pack an extra pair of underwear.
There’s “surf porn” and then there’s this. What’d you expect after three years of filming in some of the world’s best waves with arguably the world’s best surfer? Think impossibly deep tubes, fully inverted air-reverses, and a 540 alley-oop stomped like it ain’t no thang.
3. Bruce Brown would be proud…kind of.
In a recent Reddit “Ask Me Anything,” John opened up about his love for Brown’s staple of surf cinema, Endless Summer II. And View clearly pays homage to the 1994 film – Reilly making quirky Dad-jokes (like Brown) over a documentary style view into John’s personal life – but it ultimately falls flat. The humanizing peek into JJF’s personal life, something the masses could enjoy, ends far too abruptly, instead fading into a barrage of in-your-face surf porn…which isn’t a bad thing. The surfing is incredible! But anyone unfamiliar with the surf scene would be rapt by the first five, narrative-driven minutes, only to lose interest during the other 95 percent of the film.
4. That Kueny kid’s got skillz.
The San Diego-born, nasally-voiced Blake Kueny has been filming with John for a few years now. And he’s made his mark, swooping up a few statues at Surfer Poll for his directorial deftness. View is undoubtedly his biggest and best piece of work to date, his opus. Moments of the film feel like a Lars von Trier film, particularly a slow-motion scene of John standing in the rain basked in sultry black and white. At other times, it feels like a NatGeo exposé – heli shots of rugged African coastlines, lush hills of Ireland above slabby walls of water, etc.
5. Your ears will ooze happy juice.
And the sound mixing – contracted by a Scandinavian fashion filmmaker – does strange things to your senses. It’s like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love – when Adam Sandler’s character is nervous, you are too, thanks to jumpy cuts and a careful collage of sound. In View, the Brazil section in particular nails this synesthetic viewing experience. You’re not sitting in a theater watching Rio de Janeiro – you’re there.
6. They achieved their goal.
When Kueny and Florence set out to make this film, they wanted to make “the greatest surf film ever made.” And that’s exactly what they did. In terms of sheer surf pornography shot on the highest quality equipment that literally massages your corneas as you watch it – this film is a step above anything ever produced. But did they miss an opportunity by making this just a surf film (i.e. not an actual documentary that any non-surfer could enjoy)? I would say so.
7. Does this mean John will finally win a World Title?
Now that he’s done with View, you’d think John’s focus would be redirected entirely towards the Tour. Maybe some of that Dane Reynolds-esque ambivalence towards competition will wear off. Going into Hawaii sitting in 15th place, it’s clear that it’s not going to happen this year. But perhaps it’s not far down the road. Few would argue that he lacks the skill; he just needs some good ol’ fashioned, head-down determination and that would do the trick. Either way – whether high quality film projects will supersede his blood lust on the Tour – John is a freak, an anomaly of the surf world, as shown by View from a Blue Moon.
Click here to see where the film is premiering near you.