Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun | Soundtrack by Farm

The Soundtrack to George Greenough's 1968 surf movie written and performed by Dennis Dragon (before the Surf Punks ), his brothers Doug and Daryl, (the Captain before Tennille ), and Denny Aaberg, (before Big Wednesday ).
The lead guitarist Denny Aaberg was a keen surfer and well known surf writer from Pacific Palisades ("Big Wednesday" was based on Denny Aaberg's surfing youth, with Bill Pritchard who is also in this soundtrack band), while others in the band have been Beach Boys-connected in the 1980s-90s. Ernie Knapp played bass with the Beach Boys for a year or more, while Dennis Dragon did sound work for them.


By Mark Bannerman.

The year was 1968. The place, Lennox Head, on the North Coast of New South Wales. A blonde-headed man in a black wetsuit is standing by the shore as a cool, offshore wind combs the top of the waves that wrap around the headland, running down its boulder-strewn point. The world of surfing and surf photography are about to change forever.

The man in question is George Greenough.

Californian by birth, but drawn to the empty waves of Australia. He has a plan. It’s simple really. To make a surf film like no other.

Since the late 1950s, selected surfers had taken their film cameras, set up on the beach, and captured the art of riding waves. What they came up with delighted thousands, but what those films could not capture was the most frequently asked question from a non-surfer to a surfer ... What’s it like to be out there?

George Greenough wanted to answer the question. Not just what it was like to be out there, but what it was like to be in the tube or the “tooob” as Americans preferred to call it.
Strapping to his back what now looks like a very bulky film camera, in a waterhousing, Greenough kick/paddled his kneeboard out into the ocean, caught a wave and hit the button. The results are startling. The movie that delivered this incredible experience to surfers and non surfers alike was appropriately called The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun.

That footage alone would be enough to make this film a must-see, but Greenough has something else to boast of. When he began filming the band of surfers who called the North Coast home in the winter of 1968, the boards were around eight and half-foot in length. By the time he came back to finish the film, in 1969, they had shrunk to less than six feet. As he watched the rushes of his film it became clear he had, by luck, caught what’s now known as the shortboard revolution, in living colour. One more thing needed to happen though.

Greenough was an innovator and eccentric, and he wanted no dialogue, no script. Music would be the narrator. To create a soundtrack he needed a like-minded soul who understood music. For that he turned to a young college student he knew in Santa Barbara, California. His name was Denny Aaberg. George told his friend he wanted a soundtrack that would enhance the movie. Aaberg had no experience at all with soundtracks, and not much knowledge of studio recording techniques, but he wasn’t daunted.

Aaberg immediately contacted some local musicians he knew, the Dragon brothers, Dennis, Daryl and Doug. As he told me this week, “They were real pros. Dennis would sit by his drums with a four-track recorder, hit the record button, count the band in and presto. But there was something they all needed. If they were to do a soundtrack for specific scenes they needed to see the movie. George’s answer was simple. Project the movie on a sheet wherever they set up to record. Sometimes they would convene in a house, sometimes an empty cinema. One some occasions they would record outdoors when the light was right, with George rolling his projector and the band jamming on a musical theme or riff.

They needed a name for the band. According to Denny the name wasn’t hard to find. “The music we had was organic and our crop was music so we simply called the band ‘Farm’.”
It’s a wonderful picture. George Greenough would come to Denny and say, “I want the feel of groundswell coming across the ocean. Get the base to go boom ba-boom, you know Denny?” And Denny of course did know, because he was also a surfer. If you listen to the soundtrack now you can hear the interaction as the music and the pictures mesh perfectly.

In one marvellous scene George Greenough is driving his V-12, that’s right, V-12 Cadillac to the beach. The music drops immediately into 12-bar blues that perfectly reflects the scene before us. Famously too, as the surfers head for the beach, they come across a smashed-up, old car, and the song crumpled car comes to life. At every step the band is right behind the images.

The finale though is creating the music for the scenes where George and his camera drop into the tube, riding inside the wave. Years later Greenough would borrow a Pink Floyd track called Echoes for his excursions inside the tube on a film called Crystal Voyager. Remarkably Farm create a Floyd-type piece of music way before Floyd had done it themselves.

Talking to Denny Aaberg, down a crackly mobile phone line this week, I asked him was he amazed looking back how they were able, with no experience, to do all this. He paused for a moment and said, “The times were different. It was cheap to live, you could try things. Santa Barbara was a good place. I miss those times.”

Talking to him I was keen to know what happened to The Farm. Nothing much it seems. They were offered a recording contract but the other musos said, “No”, they wanted to do other things. Denny himself ended up writing the screenplay for the film Big Wednesday. Daryl Dragon became the Captain from Captain and Tenille ( a ’70s pop act).

“It was a shame,” says Denny, “Everyone went their own way.” His voice drops, and there is a short silence down the line. It’s easy to understand his reflection. The Innermost Limits captures a time, a simple time. It captures too a moment of magic, when people rode waves for the fun of it and fortunately people like George Greenough and Farm were there to document it. It’s now 40 years since the movie was released, but it’s no less powerful for the time that’s passed. It left its mark on Denny Aaberg, and it will almost certainly leave a mark on anyone who watches it. It was a time, Denny Aaberg says, “Anything was possible.”


The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun proved an enormous hit on the surfmovie circuit but also made an impact outside surfing circles, where it was included in teh spring exhibition of Sydney's Yellow House Artists in September 1971. There it was seen as a work of art by many visitors to the exhibition, including the the psychedelic rock group Pink Floyd, and was recognized for it's innovatory fimmaking that transcended the the surfmovie genre : source Surfmovies by Albe Thoms

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