Bruce Brown, Film documentarian , 1937-2017

Builders:

Below is a 1960s picture of Bruce Brown.  He was the directory of many films, all documentaries. His two best known works The Endless Summer (1966)  and On Any Sunday (1971), changed our national culture with respect to Surfing and Motorcycling. Although these films were produced on tiny budgets, their impact is difficult to overstate.   Half a century later, they remain the quintessential film in each of these endeavors. They are first order examples of one individual, with something important to share, making a lasting difference in countless lives.

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If you have never seen either of these films, you should make a point of reserving the time to really study them. They are unusual documentaries, they have a light hearted narrative, and they capture what drove the people involved to follow their passions. The films are credited with explosive national growth of their respective sports.

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It is worth noting, Hollywoods machine had already worked the same topics in large budget commercial films which did nothing positive for surfing nor motorcycling, because they were pure exploitive trash. Conversely, the lasting appeal of Browns films defied their tiny budgets simply because they had a quality that Hollywood knew nothing about; Browns films were authentic , pure depictions of Americans at play and in competition.

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12 years ago, I put together a dissertation on how Experimental Aviation really needed an Authentic documentary, exactly like Browns films, to attract new people of high motivation and ideals to our branch of aviation. I made this presentation with some passion to a number of people in influential and leadership positions. Having grown up in Hawaii in the mid 1970s and been a rabid motorcyclist from the late 1970s on, I well understood the power of Browns films to present worthy endeavor which young people would work very hard to find their way into. I’m not speaking of having a hobby or a pastime, in my teenage years, motorcycling was my personal salvation, and be assured, I’m choosing that word intentionally.

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My appeals fell on deaf ears. Most of the people I spoke to had seen neither of the films, and were really just looking for more people like the models on the cover of a Sporties pilot catalog. When I spoke of the power of the films, they inevitably brought up Top Gun with Tom Cruise, and said “We have already had that film made”

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These people, our branch’s alleged leadership, was the problem. They couldn’t see that Top Gun was only entertainment, and it had no authenticity. It didn’t have anything to do with experimental aviation, (but then again these people really didn’t either) I really doubt any teenager watched it and then decided that he was going to build his own aircraft. The people I spoke with didn’t get they were arguing that because Hollywood made Gidget and Frankie Avalon beach movies that there was no reason why The Endless Summer need ever be made. These were the same people who though the LSA world was really going to take off because a $149,000 Rotax powered euro-trash LSA was “Affordable” compared to a new Mooney. They understood nothing but maintaining their own positions.

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Bruce Brown made On Any Sunday by getting Steve McQueen to fund it. If you want a good example of the word authentic, perhaps McQueen’s life will do; Besides being an actor, he was a Marine, a race car driver, a pilot, firearms expert, and one of the world greatest motorcyclists.

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If you need to understand what a phony is, go back and watch the scene in Top Gun where Tom Cruise is ‘riding’ the motorcycle next to the runway when the F-14 takes off. Look closely and notice the tie downs holding the Kawasaki’s handlebars down to the trailer it is being towed on. Evidently mr Scientology didn’t even know how to ride a motorcycle. I couldn’t explain this difference to people a dozen years ago, and in retrospect it now seems like a foolish errand.

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However, each of us has full control, to bring full authenticity to all of our own personal efforts in experimental aviation. Make time to watch On any Sunday over the holidays, and spend a few hours alone deciding how you will make your hours in aviation in 2018 something that Bruce Brown would have put in one of his films.

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