After around 40 years of gathering dust, San Diego Surf debuted for the first time at MoMA this year. Paul Morrissey, co-director with Andy Warhol, completed editing the film in 1996, a commission by the Andy Warhol Foundation. Andy dropped interest in the film shortly after being popped by Valarie Solanas in 1968 on the streets of New York. Here’s a picture of the very bummed out and near dead pop art star himself that afternoon:
San Diego Surf superstars, Taylor Mead, Louis Waldon, Viva, Tom Hompertz, Ingrid and among other underground heroes, the exquisite Joe Dallesandro, navigate La Jolla, California in a sea salt haze of bleach blond surf hair, sand and beachside drifters. The main protagonists, Viva and Taylor Mead, negotiate the terms of their dissatisfied marriage through the very traditional means of verbal abuse and repressed homosexual allure. Taylor floats about flamboyantly among a circle of muscular wavers who flex their cut pecks and, beneath their nylon trunks, their ocean shrunk cocks.
It’s fun to see Joe in his youthful beauty. I recently got a hold of this unknown porn of him getting rimmed and fucked (ladies don’t be jel), in a film Warhol shot, I think it’s called The Loves of Ondine. The clip I got appears to be an excerpt from a larger piece and is super grainy, mostly black and white with a color repeat at the end.
And how about this nice little gif:
Ok enough about the hauntingly gorgeous Joe Dallesandro. Warhol and Morrissey shot San Diego Surf in 1968 with two 16mm cameras, renting out a beachside mansion for the filming. There is hardly a perceptible plot in the film, typical of Warhol’s film style, with Morrissey acting primarily as director of photography. The script is loose and mostly improvised, forcing the characters to work solely with whatever raw acting skills they might posses.
The opening scene is Viva talking out loud to herself in a strange monologue that makes the camera feel like an intruder but the audience like an insider. Hardly coherent, Viva distracts herself with more commentary, or things around her yard, like breaking up a bird fight in a tree. The opening line, which perhaps best represents her character, is “Here I am, a nice, normal, middle-class housewife with a penchant for surfers.” Oh honey!
And weakness it was. She and her hardly closeted husband, Taylor Mead, would rent out their beach-house to surfers as Viva begrudgingly cleaned after them while also trying to raise a baby and young boy. And that baby? Well, in a near-tragic turn of events, Viva accidently DROPS the baby while trying to lift the older boy in her other arm. But Joe, with unthinking reflex, catches the baby just before it could hit the brick pavement. Taylor, the father, shouts impromptu, “You were nearly a complete failure as a mother!” The film itself feels unrehearsed and off-the-cuff, but this scene in particular had the threat of chance you feel in something unstaged. Staying in character, Viva makes an accidental glance at the camera with a face that couldn’t look more filled with both fear and relief.
About halfway through we are introduced to the older daughter of Viva and Taylor, played by Ingrid Superstar. She’s newly pregnant and on the scavenge for a surf boy to fuck and marry before she balloons into an unwed mother. In an extended scene, she converses with Eric Emerson (of the band Magic Tramps) who accuses her of being a lesbian seeking a husband only to hide her repressed scissor-sisterhood. In typical burnout hippy speech, Eric confesses he’s gone through three marriages, only to learn he would rather enjoy the polyamorous life of, well, sleeping around.
Sex seems to be around every corner, but the most promising scenes would just dissipate, with the cast seeming to lose attention, get distracted, or flip a boner for somebody new. Boy-crazy Taylor threatens to dump his wife, even trying to whore her out to a younger surfer to better get Viva off his hands. Taylor also woos the hawaiin dancer played by Nawana Davis, who sings “The Muffin Man” to him while in the background Viva tries to squeeze a cyst on Louis Waldon’s back. But the fanning of these flames is brief, and Taylor’s hotdog-hunger drives him back to unleashing his desire for surf boys.
In the final scene, Taylor decides to pick up surfing to better enter their circle and gets instructions from the one person from the cast who actually knew how to surf in real life, Tom Hompertz. The sexual tension is hilarious, and Tom endures the advances made by the very horny Taylor and agrees to teach him. He lays the surfboard on a table and instructs Taylor to mount it, flaunting his bronzed body and sun-beaten long hair. Like an x-rated Mr. Bean, Taylor clumsily and slowly lifts one leg over the board, cautiously pulling the rest of his body up in spread-eagle style. Without much movement he appears to blow a load in his trunks, then drops to the floor and begs Tom to urinate on him. Tom gets on the board and gives the camera a flash of his pale untan ass before standing on his feet. Next is a scene of Taylor Mead pleading for a golden shower, crying “We middle class people suffer when we watch you surf… can’t you just piss on us?” And that’s just what happened.
The West Coast premiere of San Diego Surf is on March 16 at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
Contributed by Dean Dempsey.