Warhol soft-core with male homosexual overtones, campy surfsploitation, extremely funny in places.
“It’s not a homoerotic surf movie; it’s a surf-erotic homo movie. Honestly, as I recall, it was like Buster Keaton ate acid and had Abercrombie dudes double as the Pump House Gang. It’s a dilettante delusion, man.” – Chris Malloy on Andy Warhol’s San Diego Surf (1969)
Andy Warhol still had the sand of La Jolla in his toes on June 3, 1968, when that crazed chick popped a cap in him.
Why did Valerie Solanas shoot Warhol and try to kill him? There are books and movies on the subject.
A long story.
Two days later, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles, and that incident shoved aside every other headline.
The world quickly forgot that one of the most influential artists of the 20th century had been shot and nearly killed.
What the world also didn’t know was, a couple of weeks before that, Warhol was in California, on the beach in La Jolla staying in the condo of Cliff Robertson, shooting a movie about the La Jolla surf scene called San Diego Surf.
San Diego Surf was never released.
No surprise, as Warhol’s near assassination was a life- cataclysm that changed him forever. The gaunt Andy Warhol that the world thinks of now is the Andy Warhol that emerged after he nearly died, and surgeons had to open his chest to massage his heart.
According to the WarholStars.org website, at 4:51 p.m.:
“Andy Warhol is pronounced clinically dead. The doctors cut open his chest and massage his heart. They are amazed by the damage caused by the bullet which went through his lung, then ricocheted through his esophagus, gallbladder, liver, spleen, and intestines before exiting his left side, leaving a large hole. He is dead for 1 1/2 minutes before they revive him. They operate for five and a half hours, removing his spleen. He is in critical condition, but survives.”
Andy Warhol had bigger things to think about after June 3, 1968, and so all the film he had shot in San Diego was left in the can and wasn’t edited until just a few years ago.
San Diego Surf is a Warhol curiosity: east meets west on the beaches of La Jolla.
Why did Warhol go west? What did Warhol come up with? How did he see our world through the lens of all he had seen before?
Until now, the only way you could see San Diego Surf was to make a pilgrimage all the way to the Warhol Library in Pittsburgh. Over the past 10 years, a few surfers have made that pilgrimage, but to most of the world, San Diego Surf doesn’t exist.
This all became interesting around 2000, while researching a book idea called Blue Screen, which was to be a history of Hollywood surf movies — a genre you could call “waxploitation” films.
While in a Google search, this fact appeared online on WarholStars website.
Andy Warhol’s San Diego Surf.
Andy Warhol: “La Jolla was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. We rented a mansion by the sea and a couple of other houses for the people who were going to be in the movie — some of them had flown out with us and the others just met us there. … Everybody was so happy being in La Jolla that the New York problems we usually made our movies about went away — the edge came right off everybody. … From time to time I’d try to provoke a few fights so I could film them, but everybody was too relaxed even to fight. I guess that’s why the whole thing turned out to be more of a memento of a bunch of friends taking a vacation together than a movie.”
Interesting, but that was it. A few years later, Fernando Aguerre received as a present for allowing his surfboard collection — in La Jolla — to be shot for a book called The Surfboard: Art, Style, Stoke. The present was Andy Warhol: “Giant” Size, a book that measured 16.8 inches by 13 inches by 2.4 inches — by 15 pounds.
That is a big book that covers the entire arc of Warhol’s life from his birth in 1928 to death in 1987. There is one page dedicated to San Diego Surf, with images of some ’70s-looking surfers hanging around in La Jolla.
That book sparked an intrigue with Warhol.
In the movie Basquiat, David Bowie deserved an Oscar nomination for his depiction of Warhol — and so combining the book with Basquiat, Andy Warhol became a research obsession.
Andy Warhol made a surf movie in San Diego. Interesting. What’s that like then? East is east and west is west.
Was it possible to see it?
Asking around, a few members of the surfing/art community had seen San Diego Surf. Bolton Colburn is a good surfer, originally from La Jolla, who was director of the Laguna Beach Art Museum for 14 years — until May of 2011. (Bolton nearly took me head off with a giant backside carve at Lowers in the 1990s. Good surfer.)
In 2005, Bolton emailed:
Yes, it’s interesting — depressing. He was working on it in San Diego and flew back in the midst to New York and then was shot. Some people would think it’s boring. But as a historical document, it’s absolutely a must to see. There is a little surfing in it. It was shot at Cliff Robertson’s house in La Jolla — that alone makes it amazing.
Side note: Cliff Robertson is an Oscar-winning actor best known in the surfing world for portraying the Big Kahuna in the movie Gidget. Born in 1923, Robertson grew up in La Jolla and was an early California surfer. He was involved to the point where he was a partner in Robertson-Sweet Surfboards in the 1950s and was one of the pioneers of using foam in surfboards during the transition from hardwoods and balsa.
So, Warhol was shooting San Diego Surf from Cliff Robertson’s house in La Jolla.
An interesting fact, but what is the movie about?
Chris Malloy was another who had seen it. In May 2009 he responded to an email which described San Diego Surf as a “homo-erotic surf movie:”
It’s not a homoerotic surf movie; it’s a surf-erotic homo movie. Honestly, as I recall, it was like Buster Keaton ate acid and had Abercrombie dudes double as the Pump House Gang. It’s a dilettante delusion, man.
Chris Malloy is one of the few surfers who uses expression like “dilettante delusion.” Malloy said he had a copy, but when he went looking in one of his barns, he couldn’t find it. That just made a curious person curioser and curioser to see San Diego Surf.
But how to get a copy of it?
Scott Starr lives in Santa Barbara and is an avid collector of historic surfing and skateboarding movies. In his inventory of movies — which is 52 pages long — there was this oddity:
“ANDY MAKES A MOVIE …1968 A short Documentary on ANDY WARHOL, Bob Smith? filmed while Aaron Sloan? interviewed Andy … filmed during the shoot of his never released so called SURFING MOVIE called (SAN DIEGO SURF aka THE SURFING MOVIE aka SURFING). Andy was making some sort of artsy fartsy surf film on the beach at La Jolla where they rented a beach house for 3 weeks. This short film is just a bunch of weird scenes of the actors, surfers, loading cameras with film, frolicking on the beach, scenes of them with cameras in the house looking outside all taking place as Andy is working … guys in speedos and leather jackets splashing in the surf, no real surfing going on just a bunch of weirdness, and it seemed to be really cold, everyone has on jackets and it’s windy… and all thru the scenes you hear Andy answering the interviewer’s questions about Art, Films, Actors Life etc…. Extremely rare piece of surf history, you must be a true Andy fan to even want to watch it.. but there are some classic surfboards in it, and some very strange scenes … this film is Rare as Hens Teeth!”
A black-and-white documentary about Andy Warhol making a surf-erotic homo movie in La Jolla that no one has ever seen?
Scott Starr sent a copy of Andy Makes a Movie, and that got passed around to people in the art/surf world who might be interested in it.
It came with a caveat:
“It’s Andy hovering over the beach in La Jolla, shooting a bunch of hot men prancing around in bathing suits. Andy kind of looks like a surfer. The interviewer is asking a bunch of boring questions that Andy is trying to duck. It’s fascinating and boring at the same time.”
One of the recipients was a well-known surfer/director from New York, because as a movie director and a surfer and a guy from New York, it might interest him the most.
It did and in his bathroom he showed a photo of himself at Studio 54 in the late 1970s with a young, handsome Calvin Klein and the blonde, thin, post-shooting Warhol. The director said he knew Warhol as a young actor in New York, and back then, Warhol had given him two, 5-by-7 paintings — including a piece of art politely called “oxidation painting” and impolitely “piss painting,” where Warhol would urinate on metal and make designs:
“A couple of years ago, I was moving,” the director said,
“I found those paintings and showed them to a friend. He said, ‘I’ll get you $5,000 a piece for those.’ I said, ‘Sure.’ He came back and said, ‘I’ll get you $15,000 a piece for those.’ I said, ‘Sure.’ He came back and said, ‘I’ll get you $50,000 a piece for them.’ I said, ‘OK. Whatever.’ They sold at auction for six figures. Each.”
A pretty shocking amount of money in the six figures — each — but we’ll keep that private.
Andy Makes a Movie is odd and obscure and phantomish, but still is listed on IMDB.
“Film professor Aaron Sloan doggedly interviews a reticent and distracted Andy Warhol as he directs an ‘untitled surfing movie’ (the never-released ‘San Diego Surf’), on location at Cliff Robertson’s La Jolla, California beach house in May of 1968.”
The WarholStars.org website went into more detail and includes some dialogue:
San Diego Surf was the last Warhol film that Ingrid Superstar and Taylor Mead appeared in. It was shot in May 1968 in La Jolla, California. The cast also included Viva, Eric Emerson, Louis Waldon and Joe Dallesandro. Paul Morrissey assisted Warhol during the shooting of the movie.
During the filming, another filmmaker, Bob Smith, was on hand to film Warhol making San Diego Surf for Smith’s own short documentary Andy Makes A Movie. Smith (aka Robert Emmet Smith) had previously worked as an art director on Hollywood feature films, including The Mole People (1956), Lonely Are The Brave (1962) and Hombre (1967). Smith’s film shows both Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey behind the camera during various scenes.
“Everybody was so happy being in La Jolla that the New York problems we usually made our movies about went away — the edge came right off everybody. … We’d lounge around listening to our transistors on the beach, playing songs like Cowboys to Cowgirls, A Beautiful Morning, cuts from the Jimi Hendrix’ Axis album. From time to time I’d try to provoke a few fights so I could film them, but everybody was too relaxed even to fight. I guess that’s why the whole thing turned out to be more of a memento of a bunch of friends taking a vacation together than a movie. Even Viva’s complaints were more mellow than usual.” (POP269)
After they finished filming in La Jolla, Warhol and entourage returned to New York. Less than a month later, a Warhol star walked into Andy’s new Union Square offices and pulled out a gun and shot him.
Richard Kenvin is a longtime La Jolla surfer, whose major interest is Bob Simmons and his ’40s and ’50s high-tech, planing hull, scarfed-nose evolutions of the surfboard. Simmons drowned surfing La Jolla in the ’50s, and Kenvin is fascinated by anything having to do with La Jolla. And that includes Andy Warhol surf movies — fascinated enough to drive from New York to Pittsburgh in 2008 to have a look at this “mysterioso” Warhol movie.
In November 2011, Kenvin emailed notes on why he went, what he saw and what he thought:
OK guess I’ll chime in here.
Went to see the film in 2008 in Pittsburgh.
My interest? Read everything Warhol and crew wrote for years. Saw films like My Hustler — Truman Capote in a beach chair on Fire Island with perfect offshore tubes in the background — at Whitney in the ’80s.
Heard the stories of Carl Ekstrom making boards used in Warhol’s surf film. … One was asymmetric. Never met anyone who had actually seen the film.
Primary interest was pop culture in relation to Simmons, Ekstrom, board design. …
1966-1968 in La Jolla = Steve Lis Fish, Ekstrom asymmetric, Mirandon’s Twin Pin.
Interesting stuff to me.”
Also in November 2011, Jamie Brisick said similar things, during a phone call, about his pilgrimage to see the movie with Randy Hild in 2011. Brisick wondered if San Diego Surf was inspired by Tom Wolfe’s Pump House Gang, or if they were done during the same summer — by design or chance.
Kenvin answered that part of the mysterioso.
Tom Wolfe writes about Simmons and Windansea in ’66. … Warhol shows up in ’68,
uses an Ekstrom board, to La Jolla, mind you, Windansea — both of these guys.
Not Malibu, not L.A., but Windansea.
Struck me that both of these hipster kings of pop were way on the outside of a nut they couldn’t crack when they showed up here and used the place as subject matter for their work.
It’s a guess about Wolfe. I assume Pump House Gang had something to do with it. Don’t know. Cliff Robertson might have been an influence, too. Both Pump House and San Diego Surf have references to a ‘mysterioso’ sacred side of surfing in conflict with the establishment/commercialism.
San Diego Surf is pure comic satire. I think it’s meant to be funny above all else.
Use of the word “mysterioso” could be the smoking gun.
The missing link. San Diego Surf was inspired by Tom Wolfe.
So saw the film for those reasons, hoping to license some footage for effect for a segment on late ’60s in La Jolla.
[Warhol] Foundation was saying there were doubts — legal, etc. — about being able to license any.
My resources were slim.
Asked to describe the movie Synopsis? Was there a plot? Kenvin did that beautifully in an email:
Warhol soft core with male homosexual overtones, campy surfsploitation, extremely funny in places. Has themes that are awesome satire of everything in surfdom: competition versus soul, golf versus surfing, gay versus straight, etc., etc., etc.
Plot: Married couple Viva and Taylor Mead move to La Jolla from the east.
Taylor coming out of the closet; Viva not getting any. House on beach surrounded by bronzed surf flesh of both sexes. Taylor uses surfing as means to hook up with boys and crack California society. Viva is drunk and bitter and wants to hook up with the boys surrounding the house. … The boys are happy with the girls, and Taylor just keeps chasing the boys through his “interest” in surfing.
Viva opens film with monologue about how “all surfers are repressed homosexuals.”
So, Viva and Taylor are just frustrated the whole time.
Oh, so it wasn’t Tom Wolfe who inspired the movie, it was Fred Van Dyke’s infamous quote to Sports Illustrated in 1966 about how all big-wave surfers are latent homosexuals. The online timeline for Riding Giants explained: “Van Dyke later claims he was quoted out of context, while everyone else is looking up the word ‘latent.’”
Film ends with Taylor getting a golden shower while standing on the Ekstrom board screaming, “I’m a real surfer now!”
Which was worth the drive to Pittsburgh for me.
Three years later, Randy Hild of Roxy made a similar pilgrimage to Pittsburgh to see San Diego Surf. He had known about the movie going back to his time as a student at Cal Arts, and as a surfer and an artist, he was intrigued. Hild was involved in the festivities around The Quiksilver New York City Pro in September 2011, and he suspected the east-meets-west, Warhol-on-the-beach-at-La-Jolla, homoerotic surf movie would be a great cultural hors d’ouerve for all the surf culture that would be invading New York.
Hild invited east/west literati Jamie Brisick on the mission, and also Chris Gentile and Kristin Barone from New York.
The goal was to finally see the movie and decide if Quiksilver should show it at the New York City contest.
In the end, to make long, interesting phone conversations with Brisick and Hild short, San Diego Surf was not their cup of tea, at least in the corporate sponsorship sense: “By the end of the movie there was no conversation,” Brisick said, and Hild agreed: “Quiksilver is a PG-13 company, and this movie was not that.”
Brisick and Hild had a lot more to say about San Diego Surf: How they loved it, how they hated it, how, like the black-and-white documentary Andy Makes a Movie, San Diego Surf was boring and fascinating at the same time, occasionally funny but a piece of surf art by Warhol that the world should see — for better or worse.
And from Hollywood Reporter,
“The long-unfinished, unscripted 1968 Andy Warhol feature, San Diego Surf, is almost 90 minutes of preamble to Taylor Mead getting a golden shower from the Factory’s pretty-boy surfer, Tom Hompertz. “We middle-class people really suffer watching you surfers out there,” groans Mead, who plays a restless married man yearning to put his bourgeois golfing days behind him and acquire SoCal surf-culture status. ‘Can’t you just piss on us?'”