Big Wednesday - The Movie

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Big Wednesday

The film Big Wednesday tells the story of three Southern California, USA, sufring buddies growing up in the Sixties, Surfing's Golden Age. Each of the characters are explored, but never enough. The story starts with them in their teens surfing the point break. Over all, the film is great if only for the surfing sceens, but it also gives a glimse into the lives of those living in the "So. Cal." surfing culture of the 60's.

Narriated by one of the central characters, Jack Barlow (William Katt), the story is told in five Acts that coincide with the big swells that touch their lives: the South Swell (summer 1962), the West Swell (1965), the North Swell (summer 1968), the Great Swell (spring 1974)... and Big Wednesday (1977). It also matches the seasons in the lives of the three surfing buddies, moving from the innocence of youth, to their comming of age and gradual seperation during the twisted years of the Vietnam war, destroying their bond both physically and spirtually. Finally, there is a redemption of the friends and their friendship in the ocean when they the paddle out on "Big Wednesday".

When the boys reach 18, they are sent their Induction Notices for Military service in Vietnam. Leroy "the Masochist" (Gary Busey), along with Matt Johnson (Vincent) fake their way past the draft, Masochist pretending to be a schizoid wino and Matt Johnson fakes being a cripple from birth. Others in the gang try to avoid the draft, Waxer's poor attempt at being gay gets him sent to the Marines. But it is the other member of the triad, Jack Barlow (William Katt), who simply does his duty and enlists. Jack is the straight-shooter who deserves better than he gets. Before his departure to Nam you watch Jack surf alone in a beautiful cine-sonata that forebodes doom, a pointless sacrifice of beauty and youth. The film takes a twist and spares Jack, insted, it is the smaller character of Waxer who is killed in Vietnam, sad enough. While it lacks the deep pathos Jack's death would've created, maybe it tells the truth. Again, the action is in the distance, the emotion concealed in the waves.

Finally, it's the 20 foot wave wall on "big Wednesday" that gives the former Point Hot Dog champion Matt Johnson (Jan-Michael Vincent) a chance to redeem himself from a life misspent failing to deal with adulthood and the obligations of being a minor star. It's also a chance for the three amigos to be reunited and surf the greatest swell southern California has ever seen. It's this bond with the water and the surf that is the constant companion to the friendship of the three. Hope springs eternal as we watch Gerry Lopez rip tripple over head barrels while the buddies walk up the old steps from the beach, together.

Jan-Michael Vincent and William Katt both surfed a bunch before they got the parts, and it shows. They both have nice style, but they still have help of sufing doubbles for the really hot surfing sceens. The caliber of the surfing alone makes the movie worth seeing. If you watch carefully, you can see sceenes were shot in Hawaii to get the bigger surf shots. Although Gary Busey learned to surf for his part, and you can sort of tell he's not even close to the abilities posessed by his character. Overall, you have to give William Katt nodds for nice flow and style on his candy striped Bear Boards.

Big Wednesday (1978)

  • Directed by John Milius
  • Written by Denny Aaberg and John Milius

  • Jan-Michael Vincent (Matt Johnson)
  • William Katt (Jack Barlow)
  • Gary Busey (Leroy "Masochist" Smith)
  • Lee Purcell (Peggy), Patti d'Arbanville (Sally)

Also Starring:
  • Sam Melville (Bear), Barbara Hale (Mrs. Barlow), Darrel Fetty (Waxer)
  • Gerry Lopez (as Himself), Robert Englund (Fly, narrator)

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