Fantastic Plastic Machine, The


Schizophrenic 1969 surf movie produced by Californians Eric and Lowell Blum for 20th Century Fox, narrated by former Dennis the Menace television star Jay North. The Fantastic Plastic Machine starts off as a travelogue, following La Jolla's Windansea Surf Club members, including Skip Frye, Steve Bigler, Joey Hamasaki, and Mike Purpus, from Los Angeles to Sydney for an October 1967 team competition against a team of Australians. The first half of the movie, with stopovers in Fiji and New Zealand, is a handsome but limp copy of Bruce Brown's 1966 classic The Endless Summer.

Once in Australia, the longboard-riding Windansea surfers lose badly to the vee-bottom-riding Australians, at which point the Blum brothers submissively turn their film over to Nat Young, Bob McTavish, and George Greenough—the three titans of the just-launched shortboard revolution. ("Plastic Machine" was the name McTavish had written across the bottom of his first short surfboard a few months earlier.) Jay North's narration drops out of the film completely, as does the Windansea Surf Club.

The final third of the film is a nonlinear ode to the new shortboard surfing and its concomitant philosophy, with Young, McTavish, and Greenough getting virtually all the screen time. Young, in a stentorian voice-over that is by turns indulgent and insightful, celebrates the period's peace-and-love ethos, but is candid enough to admit that "anger always seems to bring out the best in my surfing." Much of the footage in the second half of the film was shot by Greenough.

As reported in the film's companion book, The Fantastic Plastic Voyage, written by Brian St. Pierre, the film's producers knew something about anger themselves. "I was bothered," 28-year-old Eric Blum said, "with the lack of redeeming features in most of the surfers who surrounded me. Probably if I knew what I was getting into, I never would have made the film." Neither of the Blum brothers pursued a career in movies.

Most of Fantastic Plastic Machine was filmed—in gorgeous 35mm widescreen Techniscope—by ace cameraman John Stephens, who later worked on Indiana Jones and Titanic, among other Hollywood blockbusters. Other surfers who appear in the film include Ted Spencer, Margo Godfrey, Midget Farrelly, Peter Johnson, Mickey Munoz, and Russell Hughes.

Fantastic Plastic Machine opened to poor reviews, and was pulled from theaters after a short run. A like-titled soundtrack album, written and orchestrated by jazz trombonist Harry Betts, was released on Epic Records.