Episode 16: Point Break

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Surf’s up! Sean and Cody have exchanged the deserts of West Texas for the beaches of Southern California, and they’re joined by environmental historian and beach expert Elsa Devienne to take apart one of the most beloved action movies of the nineties. In 1991’s Point Break, FBI hotshot agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reaves) and his bonkers partner Pappas (Gary Busey) hit the beaches in pursuit of a bunch of bank robbers in rubber masks, who are actually a gang of surfers led by Buddhist-babbling blonde beefcake Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). Can they stop the money-grabby Ex-Presidents before the summer ends and the waves go flat? Environmental issues discussed include the evolution of beaches in the Los Angeles area, the history of surfing culture, ocean pollution, the manmade monstrosity of the L.A. River, and Hollywood’s gender-biased view of men, women and the environment.

When, where and how did surfing become a thing? Why is it accurate to say that famous beaches like Venice and Malibu were made by humans rather than existing as natural features? What’s the weird relationship between surf culture, neo-Nazis and white supremacists? Are L.A.’s beaches cleaner today than they were in the 1940s? How did “Tricky Dick” Nixon getting a bunch of oily goo on his beach at San Clemente lead to the modern environmental movement? Why are there so few female action directors? What was the name of Patrick Swayze’s hit pop song from 1988? Do law schools have football teams? Did not wearing a motorcycle helmet give Gary Busey cancer? All these questions and more are in the pipeline and ready to be carved in this surf-tastic episode of Green Screen.

Trailer for Point Break.

Additional Materials About This Episode

The fight with the “Nazi surfers” in Point Break. Their leader is played by Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chile Peppers fame.

Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and friends espouse their philosophy, such as it is, in the beach party scene from Point Break.

The Environmental History

The work of environmental historian Elsa Devienne, the guest in this episode:

“Shifting Sands: A Social and Environmental History of Los Angeles’s Beaches, 1920s-1970s,” California History, University of California Press, 2016:

“Urban Renewal by the Sea: Reinventing the Beach for the Suburban Age in Postwar Los Angeles,” Journal of Urban History, Vol. 45, Issue 1, 2019:

“The Life, Death, and Rebirth of Muscle Beach: Reassessing the Muscular Physique in Postwar America, 1940s-1980s,” Southern
California Quarterly, Vol. 100, No. 3, Fall 2018:

“Invisible Lines in the Sand: Bather Arrests in Early 20th-Century Los Angeles,” Metro Politics.org, July 2018:

“Seashell and Refugees: Rewriting the History of the Beach in the Anthropocene Era,” Libération, January 12, 2020:

“Spectacular Bodies: Los Angeles Beach Cultures and the Making of the ‘California Look” (1900s-1960s), European Journal of American Studies, Vol. 14-4, 2019:

Elsa’s forthcoming book, The Sand Rush: An Environmental History of Los Angeles’s Beaches (in French):

The “surf Nazis” Connection

Photo from the New York Times article discussed in the episode, dating from the 1960s, showing SoCal surfers espousing Nazi imagery and symbolism.

“The Long, Strange Tale of California’s Surf Nazis” by Daniel Duane, The New York Times, September 28, 2019:

Original source of the photo, a 1961 Life Magazine spread:

Letter-to-the-editor exchange in Surfer Magazine from 1966, as profiled in the July 1995 35th anniversary issue (quoted in the episode) and accompanying visual. If it looks like a Nazi, talks like a Nazi and paddles like a Nazi…

Miscellaneous Cultural and Environmental Issues:

Gidget by Frederick Kohner, originally published in 1957:

Rosanna Xia, “Manhattan Beach was once home to Black beachgoers, but the city ran them out. Now it faces a reckoning,” Los Angeles Times, August 2, 2020:

“Nick Gabaldón: Honoring a True Surf Pioneer,” Heal the Bay, June 9, 2020:

The real Latigo Beach in Southern California as seen on Google.

Movie Stuff

Trailer for the 1963 film Beach Party starring Annette Funicello, the first of the infamous “Beach Party” movies, discussed in the episode.

Enoch Arden, the 1911 D.W. Griffith film shot partially on the same beach locations as Point Break. It’s discussed in the episode.

The skydiving scene from Point Break. Note Swayze’s dancer-like moves here.

The real Bell’s Beach in Australia, as seen on Google Maps.

Ecola State Park in Oregon, which stood in for “Bell’s Beach” in Point Break. Note the pine trees.

The infamous volleyball scene from Top Gun (1986). Contrast this with a similar scene in Point Break to see the difference between how male and female directors handle similar material.

“She’s Like the Wind,” Patrick Swayze’s 1988 pop hit, if you can call it that.

Point Break (1991) at IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102685/
Point Break (1991) at Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/point-break/

Next Movie Up: Cape Fear (1991)

The poster from Point Break is presumably copyright (c) 1991 by Twentieth Century Fox. Its inclusion here is believed to be permissible under fair use, as are images from other productions. 

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