Morning of the Earth (1972) is one of the greatest surf films of all time: with gorgeous shots of Australian waves and iconic surfers in Bali alongside a much loved country-soul soundtrack, Director Albert Falzon captured the zeitgeist of hippie counterculture in the 70s that deeply resonated with Australia’s youth culture. In his own words, “I just wanted to make a beautiful film about surfing, the planet and the ocean.” 50 years later, Justin Misch took on the responsibility of the restoration of this Australian classic and introducing it to a new generation of surfers and filmmakers…
HOW MORNING OF THE EARTH CAME TO BE
With his surfboard, a camera and some 16mm film, Falzon travelled through Australia’s north coast, filming the serenity of the surf lifestyle. He travelled even further afield to Hawaii’s north shore as well as Bali, with his film being the first to capture surfing in Bali, as well as the two surfers Stephen Cooney and Rusty Miller being the first to surf the now world famous point break, Uluwatu. Morning of the Earth also showcases the works of some of the world’s best surfers, including champions Nat Young, Terry Fitzgerald, Michael Peterson, and Gerry Lopez.
It became an instant success in Australia, with sold out box office shows thanks to its inspiring story, stunning visuals and cutting edge editing, as well as the legendary soundtrack by G. Wayne Thomas that was the first Australian soundtrack to sell over a million copies and go Gold.
Thanks to its solidified status as an Australian national treasure, the 16 mm AB rolls of film were stored in the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia under the 2005 Kodak/Atlab project, which selected 75 of Australia’s most culturally and socially significant films.
STUMBLING ON A “DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH”
Justin Misch was producing Spoons: A Santa Barbara Story (2019), a documentary on the history of surfing in Santa Barbara and the innovative connection between Santa Barbara surfers who ventured off into Australia, and the evolution of the production of the surfboard we know today, when he met Albert Falzon who was sitting on a goldmine of archive footage of surfing. From there, a collaboration was born and a desire to restore Morning of the Earth for the world to see – Misch describes finding this footage a “diamond in the rough, a forgotten gem”.
Although, this was not Misch’s first encounter with Morning of the Earth: whilst studying, he took an experimental film class, where he found Falzon’s magnum opus. Seeing hippies live off the land, sleep in tents on the beach, making their own surfboards, BBQing their own food and with no sign of civilisation, reinforced Misch’s “inner feelings of rebellion and indie filmmaking, wanting to do what you want to do, which is Falzon’s whole philosophy, do what you love. That really resonated with me”. He applied for a summer internship with him that summer but never heard anything back. To meet Falzon 10 years later was a surreal experience to say the least.
Before Morning of the Earth was restored (and now more easily accessible on streaming services like iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Vimeo and YouTube), you had to order the DVD from Falzon, who burnt it himself and would take several weeks to arrive. For its 50th anniversary, the pair decided it was time to rejuvenate this valuable cultural artefact.
CREATING ORIGINS ARCHIVAL
To do so was a labour of love. Misch explains that “sometimes you come across situations in life where you can either do it the conventional way, or you can kind of just tackle it. The more and more we explored the conventional path of fundraising and everything that went along with it, I decided to figure out what goes into restoring a film”, which led him to founding Origins Archival.
With a lot of support, advice and tenacity, over three years Misch managed to restore all 150,000 frames seven times over, which included a color grade, stabilization, de-flicker, splice clean up, scratch removal and dust busting, to produce a digitised 4K edition.
When asked about maintaining momentum, Misch answers that whenever he ran into a problem he couldn’t solve, he would go into a sauna for a really long time until he got really hot “to the point where it felt like my mind was going to explode”, he found “you got some pretty good answers when you put your body under pressure like that”.
The intention was to achieve a museum grade restoration that should imitate the original quality of the first virgin print, if not exceed it; Misch tried to stay true to the director’s original vision and creative intent. It paid off – Falzon admits that it “looks and sounds better than it ever has!”
Misch admits: “The advent of WhatsApp or just internet phone calls was like a life changer for this project, I’d spend an hour or two on the phone with him every day just with updates. He was the guiding light for what we were working towards, his word was always the most important in the conversation”.
THE RESTORATION JOURNEY
Fortunately the film itself was in relatively good condition thanks to its storage environment and for existing in its entirety. Having said that, dealing with 50 year old footage still has its challenges.
Once they made a 4K scan, it was stabilised and then color graded – doing it in this order was one of the best lessons Misch learned early on, learning “it was important to see the final image on the screen as they’re doing frame by frame restoration, as opposed to putting on a LUT and then figuring it out later”.
Next, the clean up process began: “DVO Dry Clean was our biggest saviour: even though we removed a lot of the scratches and the splices, the film was actually really dirty. And it’s not just dust, it was stuff that was really stuck on the film. So Dry Clean was a huge saviour in that sense, especially with the triple printed and quadruple printed material”.
Misch subscribed to Phoenix, which can give you access to 36+ award-winning DVO tools, like his go-to, DVO Dry Clean. “Phoenix is powerful software, to the point where you almost feel like you’re a magician. You’re looking at a shot, and think ‘how are we gonna get past this’ but then you run it through Dry Clean, and five minutes later, you look at the result and you say, ‘Oh my God, that’s pretty good’”.
Filmworkz also offers technical support to subscribers, with our Jedi, Björn Lantz, on hand to help out when questions arise. “We worked with Björn quite a bit because the footage is by nature very dynamic because of the surfing: you have the waves, where every wave is different and every part of the wave is different, you have surfing with arms swinging and boards moving, the different light. We were really impressed how well it handled everything and it was also good fun to see Björn play with the material to push the DVO tools to their limits”.
Thanks to the film’s experimental nature, some of the footage was trickier to manage than usual. “It was also very heavily color faded and some had step printed sections. Some of the shots were taken with infrared film which was sent to labs to be dyed and printed – this film was probably the most difficult because you’d have an inconsistent cadence in three or four frames step printed and then a big piece of dust is there three times”.
“We had actually decimated, so we went into the DPX image sequence and deleted the duplicate frames so we got a new image sequence of a truly progressive clip. We ran that through Phoenix, did the restoration and then re-step printed it manually. We ended up basically taking let’s say 1000 frames of content, condensed it down to 300, did the restoration on the 300 and then stretched it back to 1000 frames, and did grain matching. That was the brilliant idea of Benjamin Solovey, my restoration artist partner”.
WHY THE FILM MATTERS MORE NOW THAN EVER BEFORE
Morning of the Earth may be more relevant today than ever before, Misch argues; “we live an extremely fast paced life, we’re glued to our screens, we’re constantly texting, our mind is going at 100 miles an hour. We wake up to the screen and we go to sleep on the screen, and Morning of the Earth is the polar opposite of that. It’s living off the land in harmony with nature. Building your own surfboards. Doing what you love, connecting with nature, respecting the planet. It offers a nice balance to anyone who’s looking to build a deeper connection with nature and an outdoor lifestyle”.
Misch later reads out one of the emails they had received from a fan: “I quit my high flying job, sold and gave away all my stuff and now live a simple, uncomplicated, holistic life in a rural fishing village with a beautiful wave on my doorstep. Thank you for making this film. Biggest positive inspiration”.
The current pressing concerns about the welfare of the world and climate change has also increased dramatically since the 70s, and the film’s ethos about living in harmony with your environment and respecting nature feels even more important now than before too.
Falzon himself has commented that “Morning of the Earth has stood the test of time and perhaps is more important today in view of the increased number of people on the planet and the demands they are having on its resources and ecosystems. We need more than ever to be reminded of this fragile system we have inherited and to a certain extent Morning of the Earth is a reminder that we are all truly responsible for our decisions and actions. It is important that we individually and collectively embody those qualities that will ensure that we live a sustainable life, not one based on overproduction and overconsumption but one based on sensitivity to all life and on all levels on this Earth. Morning of the Earth reflects in a simple way how we can endure and sustain and enjoy our life here and leave a small footprint and a better world in our passing.”
A WARM WELCOME AND WAY TO SUSTAIN LONGEVITY
Since its release, Morning of the Earth has been welcomed with open arms and celebrated widely. Tracks Magazine, a monthly Australian surf magazine that was founded by many of the surfers featured in the film, sponsored and managed a sold out 12 step theatrical tour of Australia. With roughly 80 other screenings around the world, and appearances in film festivals like Paris Surf/Skate Festival, London Surf Film Festival and the Tel Aviv Surf Film Festival, the film has been making the rounds.
Another outcome of this restoration process was healing broken friendships: some of the actors in the films had disagreements, resulting in some of the team not speaking to each other for over 30 years. Thanks to bringing this film back to the forefront, it provided an opportunity for wounds to heal. “That gave me chills, because you’re brokering a relationship whilst also restoring the film”.
The other venture the team pursued whilst restoring this film was to release a 256-page 50th Year Anniversary coffee table book that commemorates the anniversary of the film but also the beautiful imagery that was remastered. Nowadays when you release a film, it exists largely in a digital realm for streaming, but in an attempt to find footing in the physical world that’s not a DVD, the book was created for its “timelessness” and physicality.