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The 1969 surfing documentary Follow Me resurfaces on DVD like a time capsule washed up on the beach. Vintage footage of wave riders is the main draw but its preservation of dated sexist attitudes contributes to the nostalgia.
Claude Codgen, Mary Lou McGinnis and Bob Purvey are young champion surfers. They embark on a round-the-world tour looking for surfing spots making stops in Portugal, Morocco, Ceylon, India, Hong Kong and Japan before concluding with Hawaii. Surfing is practically unknown in those exotic locales so the trio usually has the beaches all to themselves. They also discover the waves to be pretty disappointing in some places. The Japan stop brings them to an indoor wave pool but the travelers are less interested in the (then) state-of-the-art venue than they are in picking up locals. The trio draws a crowd when they practice their moves and these ambassadors of surfing happily give lessons to their new fans.
The global surfing safari provides a basic narrative structure to showcase an abundance of surfing action. Follow Me records the early work of some distinguished film professionals. The cinematographers are Mike Margulies, Jim Freeman and Greg MacGillivray. Margulies continued on with a long career in television. Freeman and MacGillivray went on to form MacGillivray Freeman Films, the company renowned for their IMAX nature films such as Journey Into Amazing Caves. Though the surfing footage feels repetitive it is mostly exhilarating and surf movie fans will surely enjoy seeing the action. Even in the disappointing surf destinations, the three protagonists and their camera crew manage to make the best of it. Hawaii provides an extended climax to the film as huge waves under sunny skies are the perfect backdrop for some impressive rides. A lot of the footage is shot using color filters and I could take or leave this effect since it doesn't really add anything aside from making everything green or pink. The psychedelic visuals get an assist from the light and enjoyable music by Stu Phillips, a TV veteran who went on to compose many classic themes including that of the original Battlestar Galactica series.
Bob Purvey narrates their adventure, informing the viewer with some basic surfing knowledge and play-by-play of their interactions with the natives. "How do you pick up a girl when you don't speak her language?" he muses in Japan, "Easy, you teach her how to surf." There is a playful attitude in the script that would be considered blatantly sexist today. When they're on land, Claude and Bob are on the make. There is the brief suggestion that Mary Lou is also checking out the local boys in her spare time but she's mostly ignored. Mostly, but not completely ignored. At one point, Mary Lou offers to do their laundry. The joke is on her (even more so) when she discovers the locals do it by hand. This causes Bob and Claude to sit back and enjoy a big laugh while Mary Lou labors at a communal wash basin. The cinematographers put in a good effort to capture plenty of bikini-clad girls running and jumping about. Their camera work not too subtly reminds us that this is a boys' adventure.
The video presentation on this DVD shows the age of the material. Footage is soft and exhibits an orange colorcast when the other color filters aren't applied. It looks like the source material has been cleaned up but there is still a minor amount of scratches and dust that dance over the image. While the surfing action is often spectacular, the technical quality feels more like a worn home movie than professional sports photography. In much of the action on the open water, it's hard to tell which surfer you're watching. The mono soundtrack is reasonably good with clear voice-over narration and a nice balance between the sound effects and music.
Follow Me is a dated film, sure, and that is one of its charms. The film preserves a time when surfers were America's goodwill ambassadors and openly ogling airline stewardesses was acceptable behavior. That, along with the great surfing footage, is sure to make this documentary a worthwhile rental for viewers chasing the endless summer from their couches.
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