Bruce Brown, the pioneering filmmaker whose hunt for the perfect wave helped cement surf culture with The Endless Summer, has died. He was 80. Brown died Sunday at his ranch near Santa Barbara. The announcement was made on his website.
A San Francisco native who was accomplished surfer and motorcycle rider, Brown already had made a number of surf movies before 1964’s The Endless Summer. The film was a regional hit and earned a national release in 1966. Fueled by the SoCal surf culture that made stars of the Beach Boys, the Ventures, Dick Dale and others, the film followed Robert August and Mike Hynson on a surfin’ safari to hotspots — and not-so-hotspots — around the world. It remains the most influential surfing movie and among the most popular.
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In his 1967 review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert wrote of The Endless Summer, “If the film itself offers exactly what it promises — 91 minutes of wish fulfillment — the manner of its filming must offer the same thing for professional filmmakers. Shunning the tons of equipment ordinarily taken along on location, Brown used only what he could carry. The beautiful photography he brought home almost makes you wonder if Hollywood hasn’t been trying too hard.”
The film’s languid, repetitive and lovely title tune, “Theme From The Endless Summer” by the Sandals, wasn’t a hit but remains among the most recognizable of surf tunes. The movie’s title was co-opted for the Beach Boys’ 1974 greatest hits double LP Endless Summer, which drove a brief surf revival tied to the mid-’70s nostalgia for all things 1950s and early ’60s.
A 50th anniversary Endless Summer box set and book limited to 1966 copies was issued last year. It included a 5-frame strip from the film, a 200-page signed book, a reproduction of the world map used for planning the trip, posters, personal letters, tickets, flip-books and a re-mastered DVD of the film.
Brown also received an Oscar nomination for his 1971 feature documentary On Any Sunday, for which he trained his camera on motorcycle racers including Steve McQueen — who also provided some financial backing — and Mert Lawwill. Brown directed, produced and narrated the film that
Bruce Brown Films was the production company and/or distributor for his movies, which also included Slippery When Wet (1958), Surf Crazy (1959), Barefoot Adventure (1960). Water-Logged (1962) and The Edge (1975). In 1994, Brown directed and narrated The Endless Summer II, which followed a new pair of surfers on their global quest for that Perfect Wave.
Brown also directed and
Brown inducted into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame in Huntington Beach, CA, aka “Surf City.”
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