SPIRIT OF AKASHA – A DREAM REIMAGINED

There is little question that ‘Morning of the Earth‘ is one of the most profoundly influential surf films of all time. ‘The Endless Summer’, ‘The Hot Generation’, Albe Falzon’s magnum opus is in very distinguished, and very minimal, company.

When Tony Harlow became managing director of Warner Music Australia, he was, of course, tasked with improving sales. Research of the past became a focus for the future, looking through the archives at the best sellers of previous decades to formulate a strategy for developing ongoing and enduring sales.

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It’s inevitable that the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Radiohead’s past releases would have made the shortlist. But one title caught Harlow’s attention that mystified him. Brian Cadd, Peter Howe, Tim Gaze and a bunch of hippies called Taman Shud had put together the soundtrack to a film called ‘Morning of the Earth‘, a film about surfing and an album that just kept selling, through the generations, again and again and again.

Well, thought Harlow, if it was that successful then, we can remake a success of the future. After some research, he found the movie’s director, a reclusive surfer living on the mid North Coast named Albert Falzon. But Falzon isn’t an easy man to contact, even for his friends, and Harlow’s attention defaulted to Andrew Kidman, friend and collaborator of the hermitic filmmaker.

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Of course, as someone who had grown up in the surf industry, been inspired by Falzon’s film making and elevating ‘Morning of the Earth‘ to the lofty reverence it deserves, Kidman immediately baulked at the idea: remake ‘Morning of the Earth‘? That would be like rewriting the Bible! But Harlow wasn’t easy to deter.

“Tony called Chris Moss, who used to run Warner,” says Kidman of the project’s dawning, “and he said ‘do you think we could make a modern version of this thing?’ Chris just laughed at him! But Tony was persistent and called Chris again, asking him to speak to Albe about the possibilities. Albe said the same thing – ‘no way, I don’t think it’s possible,’ – suggesting to Chris that he call me.”

Andrew reflects on those first phone calls: “I said I didn’t want to do it either, but they kept calling and calling. The main thing I was worried about was them trying to control it, but Tony Harlow was smart enough to know the best way to do something like this is to let people who know what they’re doing do it. That’s exactly what he did. He didn’t get in the way, all he did was to help facilitate everything we needed to do to make it. That’s pretty rare, I’m told, it was a really good experience having someone believe in what you do and help facilitate it in every way possible, there were so many layers to the project.”

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Kidman finally agreed to helm the project, but only on the proviso that he made the movie his way and that, ultimately, Albe Falzon had the final say on everything.

Kidman’s previous movies, ‘Litmus‘ and ‘Glass Love‘, unintentionally evoke certain similarities to ‘Morning of the Earth‘. Not that he was trying to emulate the ’70s classic, but simply that it’s influence was unavoidable. It could never be said that either movie was an attempt to replicate or even emulate Falzon’s work, but the harmony of film, music and surfing places them in the same genre, making Kidman, in many regards, the perfect, if not the only, man for the job.

Music is as much a part of the project as the imagery, as it was for ‘Morning of the Earth‘. The viewer can never be sure if they are watching a beautifully shot surf film with a cracking soundtrack or a music video with lots of surfing in it, the precedence on sound and visual always equal, always ambiguous. The end product too is, in that sense, incongruous. ‘Spirit of Akasha‘ is a stunning film in its own right but, independent of the movie, the soundtrack is a stand-alone work. One could become familiar with either element without the slightest knowledge of its sibling.

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“We wanted to do a modern celebration of ‘Morning of the Earth‘, and mainly through the music,” Kidman recalls. “The idea was to cover the original songs in a modern way and then we wanted to write a new soundtrack. Out of that grew the question of what tack to take on the new movie, because you simply couldn’t remake ‘Morning of the Earth‘ I said, ‘why don’t we try to see if that spirit that was in ‘Morning of the Earth‘ is still alive?”

Drawing on personal connections and the extensive library of Warner-signed artists, Kidman compiled a twofold musical score. On the one hand, the ‘Spirit of Akasha‘ soundtrack draws only an influence from its predecessor, a modern reflection but very much of it’s own design.

On the other, Kidman has carefully selected artists to replicate the original, sometimes verbatim, at others a modern interpretation, a cover version for today. But always, Falzon has been the one with the power, the yes or no on the final cut.

To Be Young – Andrew Kidman & The Windy Hills from Andrew Kidman on Vimeo.

“There was one day when Mick Turner, guitarist from Dirty Three, sent his version of the title track to me,” says Kidman. “The first one he sent through was just a sketch, with Oliver Mann singing the vocals, I was worried about it as it didn’t seem to hit the mark. I was really nervous, but I called Mick up and asked him if he could do something more with it. Mick was unsure that we really wanted him to cover the title track. I replied, telling him, we really wanted him to do it, we were honoured that he’d asked to do it and if he and Oliver could really bring it to life that would really be great, as I could hear something was there. They re-did the vocals, added new layers of sound and sent it back up to me when Albe [Falzon] happened to be here. I put my headphones on, had a listen to it and was blown away – it was so good. I called Albe and played it for him. He had his eyes closed the whole time, he didn’t say a word. But when it was finished, he opened his eyes and just said, ‘that’s art.’ Seeing that was enough, it was one of those moments that made me realise that this whole project is worth it.”

But of course, ‘Spirit of Akasha‘ is ultimately a surf film, and every surf film needs surfers. Kidman’s career has been spent immersed in surfing. This, along with the gravity of the project, enabled him to score the cream of the crop; Beau Young, Kye and Joel Fitzgerald, Mick Fanning, Ellis Ericson, Sam Yoon, Steph Gilmore, Tom Curren, even Kelly Slater, doyens among the elite cast. But many of these figures weren’t even alive at the time of ‘Morning of the Earth‘s release. Why would some of the finest contemporary surfers offer their minimal free time to such a project?

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“When I told Mick [Fanning] about it he just said, ‘I’ll be a part of it – whatever you want to do.’ He didn’t have a lot of time either – he won the World Title the same year that we did that, so I don’t think he really had time to shift focus and be riding single fins to be honest! But he still did it. He’s like any Australian surfer; if you grow up surfing in this country, you know about that movie and you revere it. And it was the same with all the musos.”

The result is a rare, if not unique contrast, the old and the new coming together, the influence of a 42-year-old movie reimagined by some of the best surfers on today’s planet, the finest board shapers in the industry and a collection of exceptionally talented contemporary musicians.

There is one sequence in ‘Morning of the Earth‘ that, from a surfing point of view, stands alone, from which frame grabs adorn posters, murals and t-shirts the world over. Michael Peterson and Kirra came together in balletic synchronicity in a performance that to this day, stands as one of the finest showcases of single-fin surfing ever to be displayed.

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In unavoidable homage to this iconic section, Kidman asked Stephanie Gilmore, if she’d be interested in riding a modern single fin on the points where both she and Peterson grew up. Kidman reasoned that Stephanie was a similar height and weight to the 1972 Peterson, and he wanted to see if it was possible to retrace Peterson’s lines.

Kidman elaborates: “Stephanie on a Dave Parmenter-shaped modern single fin – I wanted to see if it was possible to mimic Michael Peterson’s lines from the ’70s. I really wanted to have a female surfer in the new film, as there were no female surfers in ‘Morning of the Earth’. When Albe was making ‘Morning of the Earth‘ he was basically just filming what was going on, it wasn’t that he didn’t want to film female surfers, there were just very few around. I thought this was one way we could show how things had changed. Also to see if Michael’s lines are still relevant and whether those boards still have a place… Seeing Stephanie ride the board was incredible to watch. She’ such an phenomenal surfer.”

Spirit of Akasha‘ could never compare to ‘Morning of the Earth‘ – nothing could. But, from the outset, it was never trying to. It was simply attempting to explore in the modern surfing world the spirit it’s predecessor, to this day, continues to evoke and reflect. And in that, through the talents of the surfers, musicians and Kidman himself, it is a resounding success.

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“When people hear the soundtrack, they’re just blown away. When we played the movie at the Opera House, everybody said, ‘how’s the soundtrack!’. I think with film, it takes time to work it out. ‘Morning of the Earth‘ is a bit the same – you can watch it a hundred times and you still miss stuff. That’s how it is with ‘Spirit of Akasha‘ – your interest might be perked by it, but what everyone is left with is the music. For me, that was what I was most happy about. Out of everything we did with the project, I just wanted the music to be perfect.”

Andrew Kidman And The Windy Hills “Fall of Planet Esoteria” & Spirit of Akasha soundtrack out now.

Spirit of Akasha screens at Byron Community centre on Saturday, 12th April at 7pm and 9pm with live performances by Andrew Kidman And The Windy Hills.

All photos: Andrew Kidman / Patrick Trefz

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– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Mar 31, 2014

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