Judge Kristin Munson still uses water wings.
If you're into surfing, chances are you already know the Paskowitz name. If not, then chances are you've encountered a family member without realizing it when you've ogled designer sunglasses, seen a swimwear logo, or heard them on the radio as The Flys, who had a top 40 hit with "Got You Where I Want You." It's hard to believe that such a culturally relevant family grew up in a tiny camper, traveling the country with only their wetsuits and long boards for toys, sort of like a surfing version of The Partridge Family, only with a lot more issues and minus the groovy bus.
Facts of the Case
Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz was living the American Dream. He was a successful doctor, living and working on a Hawaiian island, and on the fast track to becoming a respected politician.
And he absolutely hated it.
So Doc ditched everything but his car and his surfboard for a nomadic life on the road, finding a wife and fathering nine children along the way. The Paskowitz clan lived like vagabonds, traveling in a beat-up motor home and never staying too long in one place, living by Doc's strict rules of health, freedom, and above all, surfing. They were a family who searched for fulfillment off the beaten path and whose endless summer lasted for decades.
Fans of water porn be forewarned: Surfwise steers clear of the typical surf doc style, and there's very little of the wet stuff. No lingering footage of frothing breakers or gravity-defying curls pads out the running time. No sunset silhouettes of the local beefcake and their boards breaks up the story. Surfwise is a documentary first and a surf flick third or fourth—which is good, because the Paskowitz family saga is one of those stories that is so out there, so unique, so "incredible but true," that every minute counts.
There's just so much story to tell and so very little time to tell it that a lot of the gossipy family drama gets left on the cutting room floor. Director Doug Pray (Infamy) spends a lot of time on Doc's early life and then fast forwards through most of the first 15 years on the road to a point when all nine Paskowitz kids are old enough to share their own memories. A lot of that is about the sexual and scatological problems that arise when 11 people are living out of a 20-foot camper. Then, suddenly, we're in the present, where the family is scattered and estranged to various degrees.
The way they tell it, the kids' lifestyle was one step above a Dickensian orphan's, living on gruel, sharing all their clothes, occasionally being allowed to set foot in a school. Sure, their unique upbringing led to nontraditional creative jobs in graphic design, music, and film that most of us would envy, but at least three of the children were denied college educations because of their limited formal schooling. In spite of the resentment of some children and the rose-colored enthusiasm of others (one son has decided to raise his family the same way, only on a boat), the documentary is neither a scathing indictment of their father nor a love letter; it's more like family therapy.
As interesting as the story is, the movie is not without flaws. With 11 subjects, it's difficult to keep everyone straight. I was forever confusing the middle sons, and it doesn't help that several of them never take off their sunglasses. Pray also allows the narrative to wander away, like in a tangent about wellness and the rise in obesity and when oldest son Adam performs an angry song straight to camera that stops the pacing dead.
The disc for Surfwise is in anamorphic widescreen and comes with an audio setup that's available in 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround, although the only notable difference is in the richness of the score. John Dragonetti of indie band The Submarines crafts a unique soundtrack that's the Beach Boys by way of the Chemical Brothers and perfectly captures the mood of the film.
The DVD's one drawback is that the majority of the extras are thinly disguised ads. "Doc on Health" promotes Doc's self-help book and "A Walk on Water," Israel's surf camp for autistic children; while the cinematographer showcase provides the disc's only water porn, it's still a show reel. The only actual bonus features are the outtakes and the commentary. On that track Pray, producer Matt Weaver, and seventh son Salvador share family stories that didn't make the cut and talk about the many difficulties of interviewing Doc, with some added production trivia.
Despite the complications of the differing memories of 11 human beings, Pray does a pretty good job of telling the Paskowitz story. While the documentary has a focus that's a little too broad for its runtime and shortchanges some family members at the expense of others, it's still an interesting look into the family dynamic. But with a package where more than half the extras are dressed up trailers, Surfwise is not a DVD you need to hurry out and buy.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
• Commentary by Doug Pray, Matt Weaver, and Salvador Paskowitz
Review content copyright © 2008 Kristin Munson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.