Saturday, June 13, 2009 | 4:28 p.m.
It’s virtually impossible not to think of Joseph Conrad’s "Heart of Darkness" while watching "Sea of Darkness," a CineVegas documentary that chronicles the lives and demise of members of the 1970s’ elite surfer community.
There are good times, of course – a paradisical surf camp in G-Land, a remote region of Java, hash-smoking days on California beaches – but the story is dark in the extreme, unraveling into an almost unbelievable tangle of drug smuggling, kidnapping, betrayal and addiction as a few central characters spin into the abyss.
“The truth is stranger than fiction,” reminded producer and surf explorer Martin Daly during a post-premiere interview with filmmaker Michael Oblowitz on June 12. Making sure the numerous exploits of "Darkness’" central subject, “surfer prince” Mike Boyum, were corroborated on film was a focus for Oblowitz. But in talking to Daly in person an even darker portrait of Boyum and his entourage developed.
“Evil,” Daly said of the man he once considered a friend. “He made me believe in good and evil. He was the only truly evil person I have ever met.”
It was a starkly different impression from the one I’d gotten from the film, which tells the story of Boyum’s decade-long self-destruction through a number of his former surf buddies. On screen, the man came across as misguided and unrepentant, but ultimately an explorer who’d simply lost himself in the hunt for a life that couldn’t be sustained.
In using so many people to narrate the tale, Oblowitz did convince the audience that even the most preposterous situations (the kidnapping of a Thai general’s daughter, for instance) were legitimate. But perhaps if he’d simply allowed Daly to tell the story of a former surfer and adventurer turned thief, drug trafficker and career criminal, we would have felt the horror so evident in Daly’s voice as he sat in the CineVegas Headquarters and called an old friend evil.