When I first saw this film on release in 1978, many of the critics had panned it with several observing that it was only interesting when in the water, given surfing is its main excitement and the movie subsequently bombed. Looked at again 30 years later (I have in fact seen it several times in between given the cult status it enjoys in UK fringe cinemas), the film's time horizon of mid 1960s to early 1970s following a surfing mad group growing up is nowhere as bad as those critics may have indicated.
Named after the fact that most big surfing swells over the years have occurred on Wednesday, the film by using the surfing culture provides an excellent snapshot of a group of Californian teenagers maturing across the late 1960s and facing up to their changing responsibilities, with its keen observations along the way on the tension with the later hippy movement and the indirect impact of the Vietnam War and its draft on people's lives.
None of the three lead actors (two actual surfers and Gary Busey as the "Masochist" in gonzo mode) were going to be Oscar contenders based on this outing but what makes the performances succeed is the quality of the ensemble playing. The director co-written script given John Milius's other writing credits is a bit clunky in parts (especially the lead personal relationships and the father figure of "Bear"), but since Milius was a surfer from a very young age, he admits in the recent interview included in this Anniversary DVD that it is a very personal movie and an amalgam of many different characters he knew from those days.
Sure the film's surfing scenes still look fantastic 30 years on, especially in widescreen format. The accompanying short Milius interview and his Director commentary (which because of its conversational style works well in conveying his enthusiasm for the subject as well as including lots of personal observations and stories) also makes you realise the difficulties and dangers that were faced in the location shooting of such footage.
Yes, one suspects as has already been seen over the last 30 years that this little gem while bombing on initial release will outlast many other over hyped movies of the same period. This is not just just because of its surfing community following but because it is a lot closer to depicting how it actually was for many in those times.
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