2007 // USA // Doug Pray // June 30, 2008 // Theatrical Print
B - The story of the nomadic, surfing Pascowitz clan—"Doc" Dorian, Juliette, and their nine children traversing the continent in a cramped RV—is essentially the tale of the Pascowitz patriarch's fierce philosophy of Right Living, and how he imposes his worldview on the family with an tanned fist. It's fortunate, then, that Doug Pray's new documentary about the Pascowitzes, Surfwise, employs an evenhanded approach. The film features both wondering admiration for Doc's uncompromising moral vision and a keen skepticism for its effects on his own family. Pray gleans much of latter from interviews with the adult children, who are at once nostalgic, bemused, and deeply pained about their years in the camper. Using rapid, sure-footed editing, the filmmakers demonstrate good instincts for the material, and a sharp awareness for the late twentieth-century surfing vibe. On occasion, Pray breaks with this style to daring effect, such as when he holds his gaze on son David singing the bitter metal ballad he composed for his father; the scene evolves from touching to embarrassing and back to touching. Although it toys with contrived sentimentalism in its final scenes, Surfwise sketches a compelling portrait of an abnormal-yet-normal American family with poise and passion.