Paint it Black’s: New film captures feel of our greatest beach
Down here, we’re blessed with an embarrassment of beaches.
IB, the Silver Strand, Coronado, OB, Mission, Tourmaline, Windansea, Marine Street, the Shores, Torrey Pines, Del Mar, Fletcher Cove, Cardiff, Swami’s, Moonlight, Leucadia, Ponto, Carlsbad, O’side. (My luck, I’ve overlooked your favorite.)
Well, they’re all pretty, but they’re all somewhat spoiled.
With one exception.
“Maybe it’s as much as what Black’s isn’t,” longtime Black’s surfer Ty Kramer observes in a new film.
“No boardwalk. No beach wall. No jetties. No parking lots. No beach-front properties. I don’t know of another beach like that.”
Chris Boyd, the documentary’s 34-year-old producer and director, grew up on San Diego’s beaches. He speaks the local long-voweled dialect.
His father adored Moonlight; his mother, the Shores and Del Mar.
Nevertheless, “I always knew Black’s was the most important beach we have.”
Also early on, the San Marcos boy knew that stories told in film were the most important to him.
When he was 7 or so, his mother urged him to watch “Terminator 2” to appreciate the magic of special effects.
“I was that kid in high school who made movies with his friends,” Boyd told me in a phone interview from Montreal.
His early work was promising enough to be accepted to USC’s world-famous film school. (His first screenwriting class, he still marvels, was taught by the writer of “Top Gun.”)
After graduation, Boyd worked in supporting roles for major productions, but he’s still that high-school kid. “A filmmaker makes films,” he likes to say.
In his early 20s, he made his first documentary, following a young stand-up comedian on tour. (“The production values were terrible,” he said. “But the idea was awesome.”)
In 2009, just 25, he started on “The First Padres,” a well-received documentary of the Pacific Coast League team. (A book by Bill Swank, San Diego’s baseball historian emeritus, inspired Boyd to make the film, which aired on KPBS in 2012.)
Now Boyd has finally realized his long-held ambition to convey the essence of Black’s, the cliff-lined beach connecting La Jolla Shores to Torrey Pines.
His field research began several years ago with Ernie Hahn, a Black’s surfer of distinguished San Diego lineage. From that first interview, Boyd followed leads to Black’s touchstones: the native American heritage, long buried; William Black, the wealthy horse rancher who ruled his private beach; the multi-colored crescents soaring above the 200-foot cliffs and the daring pilots directing them; the free spirits who for decades have soaked up Black’s rays au naturel; the surfers stoked by huge refracted canyon waves deconstructed by Scripps emeritus scientist Walter Munk; the lifeguards who make hair-raising cliff rescues more than once a week; the organizers of full-moon drum circles; and more and more.
Has there ever been a beach so hard to reach and yet so essential to so many diverse passions?
“The only real locals at Black’s are God and the dolphins. Those are the only real locals,” suggests Black’s surfer Jon Sundt, whose family connection to the beach is as profound as anyone’s.
So how close does the film come to making viewers feel the primeval power and the timeless glory of Black’s?
Answer: Very close.
It helps in an almost subliminal way that Boyd found a way to shoot the movie in 35 millimeter film instead of in a cheaper, but less textured, less emotional, digital medium.
It was an unusual choice for a shoestring indie film, Boyd told me, one made possible by an alignment of moxie and stars.
While working for Warner Bros. in London, Boyd was allowed to salvage what the industry calls “short ends,” leftover 35 millimeter film, maybe 400 feet in a stored can. He flew thousands of feet of the precious film to San Diego over multiple trips. He then borrowed at no cost a 35 millimeter camera from a “super-cool” guy at Panavision.
All told, he saved tens of thousands of dollars, making budget space for film processing and underwater photography.
Thankfully absent from “Black’s Beach” are the tiresome talking heads that bog down most documentaries. Instead, spectacular images of Black’s are broken up with brief retro-looking footage of some of the film’s two-dozen narrators looking straight into the camera, their lips not moving.
The haunting effect is reminiscent of silent black-and-white newsreels where the posing subjects appear to be staring at you through the flickering lens of history.
In the same rich vein, the early-morning surfing shots feel like gray-and-white archival gems, like something you saw long ago at La Paloma Theater when life seemed an endless summer.
Our interview winding down, I asked Boyd if he had any other San Diego projects in mind.
After the Black’s documentary, he said, he shot a French-style art film he’d written, a moody love triangle set at Black’s and other San Diego locations. (It’s being edited now – and I’d like to see it.)
Boyd went on to say he’s always wanted to make a movie about Dr. Seuss. The U.S.-Mexico border calls. He’s intrigued by the drug-running Coronado Company. He was briefed recently on the PSA crash, a disaster that shook San Diego six years before Boyd was born.
So many projects and only so much time for a young filmmaker who loves San Diego and makes films.
“Black’s Beach” first airs at 8 p.m, Aug. 23, on KPBS.
Logan Jenkins is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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