Big Wednesday - (1978)
While all in all I prefer Milius’ directorial debut “Dillinger,” it’s hard to argue against the idea that his surfer epic “Big Wednesday” isn’t his classic. The film revolves around three surfer buddies in the sixties, Matt (Jan-Michael Vincent), Barlow (William Katt), and Leroy the Masochist (Gary Busey) – all perfectly cast – who in their day riding the waves on the beaches of Southern California, were gods. But then, as is the case with most Milius characters, their day passes and they’re forced back down to earth to live among the mortals. Milius takes his story from his own surfer youth during the same time period. Yet Milius doesn’t strive for realism in his depiction of the trio. Instead he presents it just short of Arthurian Legend. It treats these guys (who Milius later quipped, “All became drug dealers”) as both mystic knights and over-the-hill Wild Bunch Basterds. Men who got what it takes at the moment of reckoning to distinguish themselves. Be it a hundred-man army of Mexican soldiers or the skyscraper-like swells of Big Wednesday.
Except for “Big Wednesday,” none of the Milius-directed films have a satisfying conclusion. And the climactic showdown between the heroic trio and the monster waves is so good it makes up for the rest (the trio’s “Wild Bunch” inspired walk to destiny is by far Milius’ finest cinematic moment). Before that moment arrives, the film offers a rather oddball structure. Yet for the most part every oddball thing Milius throws in the movie works despite itself. A lengthy episode in Tijuana that has nothing to do with the theme, is still exciting. A long interlude about the death of a secondary character, Waxer (Darrell Fetty), ends up moving even though nobody in the audience gives a shit about that guy.
More than any other movie Milius directed, “Big Wednesday” contains the joy of filmmaking (he waited his whole career to make this movie). It also illustrates the problems with many of his other movies. Which by contrast seem to contain the frustration of filmmaking. In its day “Big Wednesday” never found its audience during its original release (it was one of three beach movies that came out the same year, “California Dreaming” with Dennis Christopher & Crown International’s “Malibu Beach”). After the film opened soft, Milius even considered going back in to re-edit it (as if that would help). However, in the eighties via surfer screenings and midnight shows from California’s Hermosa Beach to Australia’s Palm Beach, “Big Wednesday” became one of the most beloved films by the subculture it sought to depict. Back when I worked at the beach community video store Video Archives, “Big Wednesday” was the most requested film not yet released on home video (Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same” was the second).