Inpress OCTOBER 1, 2008 - by Michael Smith


No one imagined thirty-six years ago that Morning Of The Earth would become the second highest grossing surf movie in history and an internationally lauded classic. Michael Smith talks to the film's maker, Albe Falzon, about what began as a simple labour of love.

"I always had a camera in my hand," the unassuming Falzon, who has just come back from a morning dip in the ocean by his home near Byron Bay, explains, "and I loved surfing and I've always thought just do the things you love and everything will work out. That was something my mother had always said to me and I don't know whether I applied that philosophy subconsciously or that I just loved surfing so much that I was looking for a reason to keep surfing. But photography was really natural for me, and I always had this desire to share the beauty of what we experience - this is at fifteen, before I even got into making films - and a camera was something I was able to use, so it was just an evolutionary development from a little camera to a movie camera."

A self-taught photographer, it was meeting the more experienced, like-minded film-maker Bob Evans, who was working on a surf magazine that showed Falzon how he could turn his passion into a reality. The pair started making short films together, just filming what they were doing, and their lives as surfers.

"A couple of years ago I was over in England to see Brian Eno because I wanted to use some of his music for this film I'd shot up on the waterways in Kashmir. He'd just created this ambient music that fitted the images perfectly, really tranquil and kind of like a drift. Anyhow we had the meeting and I gave him the film and we met again next day in a park and he said this film was the closest to his music and his thinking that he'd ever seen, and he said, 'It's not what you put in a film, or music - it's what you leave out that's important.' For me, Morning Of The Earth works because - I don't know if it was naivety at the time or it was keeping it really simple or whether that's the way we were living and I just recorded it. I just wanted to make a beautiful film about surfing."

Always attracted to the NSW north coast, around 1970 Falzon started filming. Through Evans, he'd met the editor of another surf magazine, David Elfick of Tracks, who suggested he check out the surf in Bali, which at the time wasn't even really on the tourist map let alone surfing radar, and initially he wasn't keen, being more intent on checking out the Camelot of surfing at the time, the Hawaiian Islands. In Bali, he discovered the beach breaks at Kuta and then the more impressive waves of Uluwatu and was converted. Falzon did end up in Hawaii as well but in a very real sense, it was his footage in Morning Of The Earth that helped open Bali up to Australia's surfing population. It also eventually gave him the title for his film, a variation on the then Indian Prime Minister's description of Bali as like "the morning of the world".

"When we were publishing Tracks, we were trying to set people on a path where they could enjoy a natural, sustainable life, because that's what surfing offers you in a way. You're out there in the ocean, you ride waves; it's really classically simple, really beautiful, you're in nature and it's very cleansing. So I guess in a way the culture that existed at the time was a natural unfolding of the way surfers were living, and I was just recording that."

So, unlike most surf films that had been made up to that point, which concentrated for the most part on footage of surfers taking on the waves, Morning Of The Earth portrayed a surfer's whole day and way of life. The other thing it did, though not quite unprecedented, was to let the images tell the story without narration, using instead music to help direct the impact of what was on the screen, and to commission original music specifically designed for those images.

"I always felt music was a much better way to communicate to people, and it just seemed an easy way to tell the story, through music. It's something that everyone can identify with and can relate to, crossing all barriers to connect on an emotional level."

"David and Albe came to me because they'd liked the way a record I'd done [Take It Easy] was produced," G Wayne Thomas, who was invited to produce the soundtrack music for Morning Of The Earth, explains. "We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted and Tracks magazine I think had run a contest and we got a couple of songs from there. David Elfick had already spoke to the boys from [Sydney psychedelic surf band] Tamam Shud."

As well as writing a couple of songs for the soundtrack himself, Thomas invited Brian Cadd to contribute as did singer-songwriters John J Francis, Terry Hannigan and Peter Howe and New Zealand band Ticket. As it turned out, the "hit" off the soundtrack album, Open Your Heart, by Thomas, released in March 1972, hadn't actually been written for it but had been added to the master tape in case another song was needed, and the music director with the then-hip radio station 2SM, which was promoting the film, heard it, pushed for its release as a single and as a consequence it was added to the end credits of the film.

"I think the reason why the remastered Morning Of The Earth has now become a live concert experience," Falzon continues, "is down to Brian Cadd. Everywhere he's performed over the past twenty years, he's had requests to play his tracks from the film, so I think the idea was to do some surf shows over summer, go out and play to the surf audiences, but then we thought, why not put the film on as well."

So, a number of the artists featured on the soundtrack, including obviously Cadd, singer, songwriter and guitarist Tim Gaze representing Tamam Shud, and of course G Wayne Thomas, along with singer and guitarist Mike Rudd from the contemporaneous Spectrum as well as a couple of contemporary artists, Lior and Old Man River covering the singer-songwriter contributions, will perform that soundtrack live to the film.

In 2006, Albe Falzon, who has gone on to make thirty-six other films on a variety of subjects in the intervening years, received The Surfing Hall Of Fame Lifestyle Award, which honours those who best represent and contribute to Australian surfing's culture and lifestyle.