Surf historian Matt Warshaw lights up on the AI documentary…
Next Wednesday, the AI documentary Kissed by God makes its world premiere in Los Angeles. Honolulu gets a premiere on May 6. New York follows four days later. Tickets are being distributed through a sign-up process, some are giveaways. Click here to get in the mix.
Now I ain’t one for exaggeration, I don’t think, and therefore tend to err on the sceptical side of the ledger. But Kissed by God? Anyone even vaguely related to the game of surfing won’t want to miss it and I urge you to find a screening at the first possible instance.
“I had a dying heroin addict husband,” says Lyndie Irons. You want to miss that sorta candour?
Much earlier today, the surf historian Matt Warshaw and I viewed our respective screeners and came at it, swords, opinions drawn.
BeachGrit: Kissed by God is a… masterly… wrenching back of the narrative of Andy Irons’ life (and death). All the pious finger-pointers are silenced by the diagnoses of bi-polar disease, a doc from Harvard adding credence even though he’d never met the star of the movie. And, of course, once a mental illness is identified no further criticism is allowed. But, tell me, do you think, egg before the chicken or the chicken before the egg? To wit, drugs before disease or disease before drugs? Or disease as a convenient spin? I know you’re not a doctor, neither am I, but as I said the other day, you can’t fly as high as Andy did and not land with a thud.
Warshaw: Kissed by God is much much better than I thought it would be. On the other hand, it’s an Irons-family-approved project, so my expectations were low. In fact I turned it off after the opening bit, with all the stock slow-mo underwater shots, and Andy’s “kissed by god” monolouge in the voice over. I remember the Billabong promo when Andy’s “kissed by god” speech came out, I think it was right before it died . . . it was strange when I first saw it, and watching it again today, for me anyway, was just really disturbing. He’s got the drug sweats, he’s slurring, and you can tell he’s trying hard to, I don’t know, be better, to be well. But he’s kidding himself in that speech. Partly, anyway. And he’s kidding the rest of us too. The bit about getting your first hit of surfing and then spending your life chasing that feeling, he’s just done a switcheroo there, with “surfing” as a metaphor for drugs. That’s how I hear it. So yeah, I got off to a bad start with Kissed by God.
The bit about getting your first hit of surfing and then spending your life chasing that feeling, he’s just done a switcheroo there, with “surfing” as a metaphor for drugs. That’s how I hear it. So yeah, I got off to a bad start with Kissed by God.
BeachGrit: What compelled you to keep watching?
Warshaw: Bruce comes onscreen, and thirty seconds later I’m all in. Bruce hedged a bet or two as well, but mostly he was incredibly honest and of course incredibly charismatic. He’s the heart and soul of the movie. And I’ll bet anything it was Bruce who pushed to make the movie as honest as it is. It’s not Brad Melelkain-level honest, and everybody involved with Kissed By God still owes Brad an apology. But my sense is that Bruce himself very much needed to unburdon himself, to get some more truth out there, and that he set the tone for all the other people talking onscreen.
BeachGrit; The static interview style of these sorts of documentaries usually bores me to tears. But, here, because it’s not a sing-song Andy-was-the-greatest-surfer-ever-hagiography, there’s an honesty I’ve never heard from the usual roll call of stars. Kelly saying Andy called him an old bald kook, adding, “Well, if this old bald kook beats you you’re going to be crushed.” Bruce is Bruce, not a damn word censored (“We were drug addicted monsters!”), Joel, Sunny, Lyndie, Mick. It’s almost as if they’re channelling AI. ‘Cause, not sure if you ever interviewed him, but if you asked a question he wasn’t going to festoon it with meaningless bunting. What are your favourite moments in the film?
Warshaw: Probably, as you say, the moments where Andy himself is onscreen talking without a filter. The bit where they show the blank rehab intake form, with the all the drug history questions, and Andy’s hand-written answers show up onscreen one by one.
“Do you consider yourself an addict?”
That was so powerful. What else? Fifteen years later, or whatever it is, Andy’s surfing holds up amazingly well. That was great to see. I’m not sure if “favorite” is the right word, but I was suprised to find out how fucked-up Andy was that first year on tour. The bipolar diagnosis and the heavy drug use. On the other hand, knowing that the Irons family knew that Andy was bipolar from that far back is…sad. More than sad. Bipolar people don’t get better without meds. Go off the meds and you’re a timebomb. Research bipolar disorder and that’s right there at the top of the page. When the movie rolls into 2010 I was just mad at everybody, anybody, who thought Andy should be back on tour. Friends, family, sponsors. The guy is bipolar AND an addict. You can argue that in the end it’s Andy’s decision, but I wanted to at least see somebody from his inner circle say “We blew it, he never should have been out there.” In other words, the movie goes further than I expected, but maybe it’s still too soon to for the full accounting.
What surprised you about Kissing God? I’ll tell you what surprised me, how losing at J-Bay in 2005 on what he thought was a bum call put him on the road to ruin. Which means the ASP judges killed AI. Am I drawing too long a bow here?
I think you are, Derek. That section of the film was overcooked. They all get fucked by the judges. Kelly, Mick, Curren, Bugs, everybody. If J-Bay broke Andy, it’s cause he was ready to be broken.
When the movie rolls into 2010 I was just mad at everybody, anybody, who thought Andy should be back on tour. Friends, family, sponsors. The guy is bipolar AND an addict. You can argue that in the end it’s Andy’s decision, but I wanted to at least see somebody from his inner circle say “We blew it, he never should have been out there.”
Oh, another surprise. I’d forgotten that in 2004 they won every contest between ‘em. That’s a rivalry. Compare AI and Kelly to Gabriel and John John.
There’s no surfing rivalry to touch what Andy and Kelly had. Not before, not since. Whoever the contenders are, Gabe and Julian, Dora and Fain, take your pick, they’re all clustered together 25 miles behind Andy and Kelly.
Can you imagine if Andy had died in Padang in 1999? Or if he didn’t get picked up by Billabong, found a way to channel his genius, and become the juggernaut he was? Kelly may not have come back on the tour, there would’ve been no pool, probably no WSL, maybe no John John. His effect on professional surfing is profound. Yes? Or you want to argue agains that posit?
No. I don’t have the imagination for the what-ifs. Can you imagine if the sperm to the left had busted Danielle’s egg instead of Andy? Etc etc.
I’m going to say that Kissed by God is the among the top three surfing documentaries ever made, alongside Bustin’ Down the Door and Sea of Darkness, in no order etc. Where are you going to put it?
Surfwise is the Andy-Kelly of surf documentaries. Nothing else is close. Surfwise is the only doc from our side of town that can step in the ring with Man on Wire or Hoop Dreams or The Thin Blue Line. Of course, I’m partial to old guys. Andy Irons is compelling, but Dorian Paskowitz in Surfwise took me for a real ride.