Intro by LSFF founder Chris Nelson
Offered a slot to show any film you want, on the big screen, in Dolby sound, to 200 like-minded souls, what would you choose? Curating a night of cult surf cinema, this was my dilemma. Only there was no dilemma. The choice was simple. There was only one possible film. Andrew Kidman’s Litmus. It changed everything. It changed me, it changed surfing. I started calling people, emailing friends, asking them for their thoughts on the movie. I wanted to pull together a story about why Litmus is so important, peppered with quotes. Only what came back weren’t sound-bites; instead I received odes to a film that was more than a movie. They sent love letters about an old friend, a work of art, a tome, a manifesto, a guiding star. I couldn’t edit them – they summed up the film too perfectly.
So here Alex Dick-Read, founder of The Surfer’s Path, forger of his own path, a man who always brought us a different side of the surfing aesthetic, talks about the Litmus effect.
Litmus? Where to start… it’s probably my favourite surf movie of all time. There are others I love and admire but Litmus feels like home. I’ve watched it hundreds of times and it never gets old. I mean, Derek Hynd high lining at JBay? Joel Fitzgerald at PMPA? Come on, those two scenes alone combine all the simple joys of surf porn with some seriously obscure PhD schooling – a ‘how-to’ in pointbreak style and, in Joel’s case, a lesson in sheer ballsiness.
That’s just a touch on why Litmus is my personal favourite. But there are professional reasons why it became central to my world as well. In 1996 I was asked by a British publisher to start a surfing magazine. Any surfing magazine.
Having grown up in a far outer galaxy of the surf universe, all I knew was that the surf mag I wanted to start was going to be different to those that already existed. Most mags were just weird in their childlike simplicity, their macho identity and their sheer market-based dishonesty. They didn’t reflect anything I knew or cared about. As I began planning the as yet unborn Surfer’s Path magazine, it felt like I was in outlaw territory, uncharted waters and pretty much alone. When I stumbled across Andrew Kidman’s film I instantly knew I had friends and allies out there. They too seemed obsessed with the act of surfing, with the beauty of surfing, with the ocean and with the infinite art that surfing makes possible. They too seemed foreign in the general culture of surfing, like me.
Somehow, I was soon in contact with Andrew Kidman himself. Turned out he loved the TSP concept and in those early days he became a real ally, sending some of his best images, writing stories, hooking me up with his friends and generally talking us up across the surf world, in which, it turned out, he was actually deeply embedded and no stranger at all.
Andrew’s stories and photographs and of course Litmus itself provided our new magazine, and surfing culture in general, with a brand new, gritty, authentic, artistic and deeply hard core aesthetic. It was sorely needed in the early 90s, after the flouro years of the ’80s. Surfing needed to get back down to sea level, away from the industry controlled, cocaine and money fuelled excess of the previous decade, and Litmus quietly offered us that sense of reverence for the sea, for great surfing, for music and art, for the cultures of the outer galaxies of the surf universe, and so on. Litmus felt like it had emerged from seaweed and slipped into our VCRs, not been pumped out of some Newport Beach marketing warehouse like everything else.
Funny thing is, Litmus is the ultimate hipster film made before modern hipsters existed. It’s everything modern surf hipsters wanna be, but without the self consciousness and sheep-like nihilism that comes with hipsterism. Litmus was independent, home made, retro, artsy, grungy, off the wall, etc etc etc – everything a modern hipster dreams of, yet just about the only film it was consciously taking influence from was Albe Falzon’s Morning of the Earth which had been out of fashion for so long that a whole generation of surfers hadn’t even heard of it. Today you can see Litmus-influenced films and web clips absolutely everywhere. Like I said, it created an aesthetic.
A couple more things about Litmus. Personally I think it made Irish surfing. I don’t mean that in a way that disrespects the elders and pioneers of Irish surfing. I mean it in the sense that it quietly legitimized their efforts in international eyes. The whole Irish section of the film, to me, is a discovery section far more exciting than, for instance, Bruce Brown’s ‘discovery’ or the ‘perfect wave’ in Endless Summer. The Ireland section showed Ireland not as an exotic anomaly or some mythical Holy Grail, but just a place that exists where surfing can be both invisible (Irish culture had barely even heard of it) and seriously advanced. Great surfers could ride great waves there, world class waves, if they had the patience and the balls. Now look at Irish surfing – a mass sport widely loved by the Irish themselves and yes, a central part of the big wave world, and yet home to just about the coolest most down-to-earth surf culture on the planet. Litmus released that spirit.
When I wear my old but dearly loved Litmus t-shirt these days, people say to me, “what is that?” I simply tell them this: “It’s a surf film. The best one ever made. Watch it.”
London Surf / Film Festival presents a special night of cult surf cinema Tuesday 22nd July bringing Litmus to the big screen accompanied by the world Premiere of The Ripple Effect, presented on the night by award winning Director Peter Hamblin. For tickets and info click HERE http://www.londonsurffilmfestival.com/litmusripple/