Review: Cluster by Kai Neville

5 Mar 2015 2 Share

Mike Jennings

Senior Writer

Noa Deane's surfing in Cluster is a landmark performance for the rising star. Photo: Humphreys

Noa Deane's surfing in Cluster is a landmark performance for the rising star. Photo: Humphreys

REVIEWS

From The Latest Issue of Surfing World, Out Today

By Mike Jennings, seen at the Australian Premiere, Hayden Orpheum Sydney February 11.

They’re shuffling their feet up the aisles and through the exits of an 80-year-old theatre in Sydney. Seven hundred of them, the grand old movieplex slowly emptying of surf fans save for a few scattered bunches talking excitedly about what had just taken place. Plastic cups that held beer an hour ago lay by their feet and under seats. Kai Neville’s highly anticipated fourth major film, Cluster, has just played to a room of raucous energy, hoots and hollers on a Wednesday night in Sydney.

The film is a return to the section-based format of Taylor Steele’s early films (Momentum, The Show), broken up by the grainy candid goof-balling lifestyle of a bunch of friends travelling and surfing together (yes there is cigarette smoking, beer drinking and throwing the camera middle fingers). There’s the all-star cast of Coleborn, Gibbens, Perillo, Coffin, Chippa, Dion, Creed, Callinan, Freestone, Ando, Dane and Deane. There’s the title screens of surfer’s names for each section giving the crowd an excuse to cheer. There’s (some of) the world’s best surfing, shot and edited by the world’s best surf filmmaker.

Jack Freestone’s is the most welcome surprise, his section playing out in slow-motion to Australian Crawl’s Reckless is a masterstroke, and will bring Jack back into the conversation of Australia’s next big hope, competitively and otherwise. A conversation he inhabited as a two time World Junior Champion, but had fallen out of when he failed to join John John Florence and Gabriel Medina as world–beaters. Cluster, and a solid 2015, should change that.

David Bowie’s Life On Mars behind Creed McTaggart’s explosive surfing makes his surfing feel utterly triumphant. The rest of the soundtrack – from N.W.A.’s Express Yourself, to Devo’s S.I.B. to My Bloody Valentine’s Slow – varies wildly in era and style, without ever feeling off balance. 

Following the era and genre defining success of Neville’s Modern Collective, Lost Atlas and Dear Suburbia, the anticipation for Cluster was as high as it can get in surfing. But reviews following the American premiere had been iffy. Not living up to the hype? Drowned by the weight of our expectations? Too contrived and cool? The questions had been thrown and the Internet had gladly answered them with the hate you’d expect from comments on surfing websites. But had they missed the point?

The film isn’t about the best surfers in the world. It’s about mates travelling and surfing together, they just so happen to be doing the best surfing in the world, save the things Kelly Slater, John John Florence and Gabriel Medina are doing in heat jerseys on the WSL – the lack of their surfing in this film is notable, but not nearly enough to take away from the overall narrative of Cluster.

Maybe this reception illuminates the differences between Australian and American surf culture, or between conservative and care-free surf culture in general. Nowhere is this more prevalent and polarising than the spotlight blinding Noa Deane at the moment. His gaffe at Surfer Magazine’s award night in Hawaii just a month and a half earlier had him brandished a disrespectful child. Drunk on stage he threw a curse at surfing’s peak competitive body and was loudly and widely condemned for it. Had that taken place in Australia, at an Australian magazine’s award night, you have to wonder if the audience’s reaction and the commentary of the incident that followed would have taken a very different path. With that incident shadowing the film, the split-second lifestyles of Noa – smoking, drinking, throwing the camera the bird – take on a more confronting meaning, or a funny one, depending where you stand on the matter. Regardless, it’s Noa Deane who is having the last laugh.

While he’s dodging stones thrown at him from glass houses all over the world, he takes the final section of the movie of the year and cements himself as its biggest star. He shuts the film down and drops the mic with a performance that is brash and bold and reckless and beautiful. Following the last few months he’s had, it is a victory for himself and his fans.

Deane’s film-closing section follows Dane Reynolds – a metaphorical passing of the baton. Kerouac to Kesey, Dane Reynolds to Noa Deane, the new face of surfing’s Merry Pranksters. Dane, 29 now and with a child on the way, puts in a brilliant section but anything less than having our minds blown by the man who has broken the internet more times than he’d probably care to mention does have the effect of a fading greatness. Dane will always be the man, his lines and power always exciting, it’s just that while he’s surfing you can’t stop yourself from wondering what Noa, still just 20, is going to do in the very next section to end the film.

“Watching Noa, I couldn’t help but feel like we were watching the world’s best new band,” says one surf fan to another as they filter out of the old cinema and into the night. Look at the room. The beer on the floor. The quiet excitement of people leaving the theatre. Some of them looking for an after party, some just heading home with a buzz ringing in their ears. The world’s best new band. This is exactly what it feels like.

Cluster is playing tonight on the Gold Coast. Be at Kirra Surf Shop by 7pm to make sure you don't miss your chance to see the movie of the year on a big screen. Entry is free.

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