Three friends. Twelve Turbulent Years. And One Day We All Must Face. The lives of some California surfers from the early '60s to the '70s. Cult classic.
Jan-Michael Vincent ... Matt
William Katt ... Jack
Gary Busey ... Leroy
Patti D'Arbanville ... Sally
Lee Purcell ... Peggy Gordon
Sam Melville ... Bear
Darrell Fetty ... Waxer
Gerry Lopez ... Himself
Hank Worden ... Shopping Cart (as Hank Warden)
Joe Spinell ... Psychologist
Steve Kanaly ... Sally's Husband
Barbara Hale ... Mrs. Barlow
Fran Ryan ... Lucy
Dennis Aaberg ... Slick
Reb Brown ... Enforcer
Down the street from my house is a restaurant/bar called RT's Longboard grill, which was opened by family as a tribute to a brother lost at sea. Adorning the bamboo laden walls, amongst yesteryear photos, boards, posters, and memorabilia, are TV screens which endlessly show classic surfing movies. The feeling one gets in this environment is similar to what one gets watching Big Wednesday. This isn't a surf movie in the sense of the word. You see, the trendy, infantile children that drunkenly roam the streets of Pacific Beach (where I live in San Diego)for the most part don't have souls, sadly, living in the very town in which many surf legends have been born. Hard pressed to find are the light hearted conversations over a good burger, malt, and a good set of waves. Big Wednesday contains such an epic story. OK... I seem bitter. It's because I am. I know the word "dude" and a nose covered in sunscreen is an easy stereotype... but the spiritual life altering experience behind surfing is most often misunderstood. What is your passion? Do you have one? It may be your children. It may be horses. It may be hockey. But no matter what goes wrong in your life, or who dies or what happens, at the core is your passion (translated : spirituality)... something pure. At the heart of this movie is this purity... and after the draft, relationships, addictions, and just plain adolescent insanity, the characters find that their friendship is still alive because of a common love. Don't try and make too much sense of this review. This isn't a restaurant review. I can't explain the feeling nor would I expect the 95% of America that doesn't live near a surf-able wave to get it...just watch the movie.
This is a great film! It deals with friendship, the passage of time and its effects. There is one actor that each person can identify with. Mine was the William Katt character, Jack Barlow. Being a former surfer myself, I understand the importance of one last time to ride with your friends and to live over your youth again before you go your separate ways. You remember the good times, the bad, but most of all the friendships you made as we are only here for a short time. Chaka, Brahs!
"Big Wednesday" (1978) is a film that was made for baby boomers. Writer/director John Milius was born in 1944 and the material draws on a ten year span of his life from the early 1960's to the early 1970's. Aside from needing a span of time to qualify as a coming-of-age saga, it was hoped that the long time span would enable it to connect with the entire range of boomers (birth dates from 1945-1963). Almost anyone born during those years will find things in the film they relate to-even shadow boomers with just the second-hand exposure provided by their older siblings. Younger viewers should enjoy the spectacular surfing sequences and might find the other stuff an interesting history lesson.
Milius is one of the so-called young auteur directors of the 70's (Coppola, Lucus, Spielberg, Scorsese, De Palma). Unlike the others he did very little after 1984, the year he released "Red Dawn", an embarrassingly moronic and histrionic right-wing propaganda film that alerted an unsuspecting world to his extremist political views. Hollywood insiders already knew about this and the Coen Brothers would use him as a model for John Goodman's character in "The Big Lebowski".
But "Big Wednesday" is his masterpiece and it is unlikely that any other writer/director could have brought this story to the screen this effectively. Unfortunately its surfer subject matter did not draw many non-enthusiasts to the theatre; even though the film is a lot more than surfing, containing a very original universal message about the process of living and changing. Low box office led to a re-edit for pay- television, with the more philosophical content was taken out. The current DVD and VHS are of this shorter version, so if you saw the "Big Wednesday" during its theatrical release you will be somewhat disappointed.
Structured like a four act play with each transition moving the action ahead a couple of years, "Big Wednesday" follows three young surfers in the LA area (Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt and Gary Busey). Each plays a talented surfer with Vincent's character approaching legendary status. Surfing plays a big part in their lives (Bruce Surtees' cinematography provides some of the most stunning views of the sport you are likely to ever see) but much of the film takes place away from the beach; with scenes of parties, the military induction center, Tijuana, family life, and romance (a full range of what growing up in southern California was all about).
Milius' treatment of surfing is reverential and sometimes even mystical, with a sweeping musical score and a local character (Bear) who is a kind of guru for the sport. In a scene cut from the television version Bear explains the origin and significance of the "Big Wednesday" title. Somehow Milius gets all this right and the film transcends what might have been a pretentious exercise in sport glorification.
The final scene is truly special as the three main characters manage a convergence for a final day of surfing together, a scene that recalls the freedom and awe of their teenage years, contrasting it with how removed they have gotten from this former way of life. Anyone who has had to choke back their emotions after a nostalgic rush reminds them of what they will never have again, will be moved my this wonderful sequence.
The surfing scenes are spectacular, the acting is excellent, but the plot of this coming-of-age story is, unfortunately, washed up.
Three surfing buddies grow up in Malibu in the 1960s, facing the standard dilemmas of romance, career, Vietnam and the age-old question of what to do when they grow up. They reunite every few years, a bit jaded as they age but with their passion for surfing intact. The film climaxes with Big Wednesday, a day the surf has swelled to spectacular proportions.
William Katt and Gary Busey turn in respectable performances, and Jan-Michael Vincent reminds us what a solid actor he was before life's temptations derailed his career.
The problem with "Big Wednesday" is that when the characters are on land, which is most of the film, they're not overly interesting. "American Graffiti" tackled the terrain of Vietnam and drugs much more effectively a few years before this film, and the character voice-over became all too familiar in "The Wonder Years" a few years later.
Still, this is worth checking out for the superb surfing sequences and the notable cast coasting on the waves of youth.