The Endless Summer Poster
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The Endless Summer poster features the silhouettes of three male surfers, faceless, though you just know they’ve got to be beautiful, total hunk dreamboats with chiseled everything and hair, streaked blond and tangled with salt, falling gorgeously into cool blue stares, and teeth of such dazzling whiteness that to look at them is like looking into the sun. Their bodies are loose yet alert, relaxed yet vigilant, maximum laid-back yet ready at a moment’s notice for some really wild, super-type action, whatever they do done without effort and fast because that’s their style, more than their style, their code. Boards balanced on top of their heads or tucked under an arm, they gaze at the ocean stretched out before them into the sky, into infinity. A trio of hotdogging Galahads searching for, as the poster’s text, plain but elegant, informs you, “the perfect wave.” The landscape behind them couldn’t be more familiar, an Anywhere U.S.A. beach, absent a single distinguishing characteristic. It’s exotic, though, too—beyond exotic, strange, alien even—the colors it’s rendered in eye-poppingly artificial: the natural world made otherworldly by the toxic chemical brilliance of Day-Glo. That it’s impossible to tell if the sun is rising above the horizon or sinking below it is similarly dislocating. Dawn or dusk? Early or late? Just after the beginning or coming up on the end?
Pop culture is culture written in lipstick on the back of a take-out menu. Its disposability—its junkiness—is its point, its appeal. And yet this poster, designed half a century ago, in 1964, has endured. Originally intended for a very small and very specific segment of the population located on the southern portion of the California coast, mermen and mermaids under 18 years of age who practically lived in their trunks and itsy-bitsy-teeny-weenies, the poster became a genuine phenomenon, spanning borders, class, time itself. In the late 60s, it hung in caves in Vietnam, where American G.I.’s smoked dope and listened to the Doors and four and a half decades later, it In fact, so potent is the poster as an icon that it’s become a pop-culture reference within pop culture.
What a movie poster really is, though, is a movie advertisement, and an advertisement is only as good as the amount of merchandise it moves. Which makes the Endless Summer poster the supreme.
The Endless Summer poster. Fifty years old, and it hasn’t aged a minute.
What is it about this image, modest and restrained with a kind of cool courtesy to it, not coming on strong, holding back, but with a directness, too, bare-bones and straight-shooting and low-key, that captures the collective imagination so completely and definitively?
It was in Dana Point, on the coast but an hour south, that John created the Endless Summer poster. Photos were taken there by Bob Bagley, one of the film’s producers, under John’s direction, of Hynson and August with Bruce in the foreground. John chose a negative, made a high-contrast positive, then using the silkscreen techniques taught in his advertising class—a case of earn as you learn if ever there was one—he created the image of the Kansas figures in the Oz landscape, black on neon, selecting colors of such retina-burning vividness they were best viewed through a pair of Ray-Bans in hopes of attracting attention on high-school campuses. (Fluorescent paints and inks were relatively new on the art scene, up until then having been used mostly by the military during World War II.) John then hand-lettered the title because he was picky about fonts and none were quite right.
The Endless Summer, featuring the image he’d designed, was in The New York Times!