In this media-crowded world, just when you thought it was time to make bumper stickers and t-shirts proclaiming “Thank you for NOT making another damned documentary!” along comes Takuji Masuda’s Bunker 77.
Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Cobain, Winehouse. Adolph Bernard “Bunker” Spreckels III (1949 - 1977) is the surfing world’s entry in the tragic 27 Club. Synopsized by Matt Warshaw as “High-born surfing hedonist of the late 1960s and early '70s; heir to the Spreckels Sugar fortune and stepson to Hollywood actor Clark Gable; contributor to the shortboard revolution,” Bunker Spreckels surfed fast, died young and left a once-ethereal, blonde, blue-eyed, tanned, lean, good looking corpse bloated by heroin and excess. The soul that ascended was torn and tattered by family drama, the love of surfing and travel and adventure - which included a kaleidoscopic cornucopia of 1970s drugs. He died at age 27, of morphine intoxication, at Sunset Beach, Hawaii.
Bunker left behind his sister and mother, his beautiful girlfriend Ellie but no family of his own, a legend and legacy of innovation and indulgence and a lot of friends, fans, mentors, disciples and hanai family who were all willing to chime in on their friend and loved one, when Takuji Masuda chose to make a documentary on the short, colorful life of Adolph/Anthony Bernard “Bunker” Spreckels: Bunker 77.
It’s not hard to divine Takuji Masuda’s interest in a privileged kid blessed with old-world wealth and Hollywood connections who chucked it all and went surfin’. Like Spreckels, Takuji Masuda is also the son of a prominent, prosperous family with deep roots in Japanese history, and real estate investments that cross the Pacific. Takuji’s parents probably had bigger ambitious for their son than second reef Pipe, but Takuji is one of those guys who let surfing get under his skin, and change the course of his life from the shady turf of some boardroom somewhere, to the sunny surf.
Masuda began surfing at Kamakura Beach in Japan, attended a private school in Victoria, British Columbia, and earned a degree in international communications from Pepperdine University in Malibu in the 1990s - where he indulged his longboarding jones at First Point - a wave that is beloved by Japanese surfers.
Mentored by the Paskowitz family, Lance Carson, Donald Takayama, Nat Young, Mike Diffenderfer, Jock Sutherland and Herbie Fletcher, Takuji was also good friends with Joel Tudor during a five-year longboard campaign that began in 1993 when he joined Nat Young’s Oxbow longboard team - which included Joel Tudor, Beau Young and Duane Desoto.
Like Bunker, Takuji was challenged by the North Shore, and during the 1990s, made a name for himself as a guy who wasn’t afraid to charge from Second Reef to the inside reef on a longboard, on the nose - an unconventional tack, that drew attention.
He just loved Pipe.
Active in mind as well as body, in 1996 Masuda founded Super X Media with Art Brewer, Craig Stecyk, Glen E Friedman, Paul Haven as well as Scott Hulet to immerse himself in art and beach culture. In 2001, Masuda came back from semi-retirement to win the Japanese national longboard championship at age 30.
The family business is commercial real estate, but Masuda went his own way and indulged his passion for media old and new, so it makes sense that his thesis for an MFA in Cinematic Media Production would be a documentary about a son of privilege who defied his family and went surfin’.
Bunker 77 is a master’s thesis and it is a masterful alchemy of layered storytelling. Masuda threw a lot into the digital calabash.
Lord Byron reckoned, 'Fame is the thirst of youth.' Bunker was young and thirsty and did not want his shenanigans to go unnoticed.
Bunker (and later, Takuji) benefited by his association with two of the very best hipster/hypester/publicists of the Print Age - Craig Stecyk and Art Brewer, who shadowed their friend and scribed his every outre outrage and outfit to a vicarious world.
Brewer imaged Bunker in everything from Polaroids to Super 8 to large format (?) and Brewer's visuals are one of the foundations of Bunker 77. And Stecyk was there, especially near the end, when he filmed and taped a long interview with Bunker in the North Shore Hotel Formerly Known as the Kui Lima - a few weeks before Bunker’s death.
Layered on that are contemporary reflective interviews with Bunker’s sister and childhood friends, Ira Opper, Billy Hamilton, Laird Hamilton, Rory Russell, Shaun Tomson, Phil Jarratt, Brian Kennelly, Tony Alva, Johnny Knoxville and an assortment of women, including the love of Bunker’s life, the blonde Barbican beauty Ellie - arguably one of the prettiest blondes to ever roam this earth.
And layered on that are clips of Clark Gable from Gone With the Wind (1939) to The Misfits (1961) - cleverly spliced in to illustrate incidents from Bunker’s life - a very nice touch. There are clips from Blue Hawaii and Big Wednesday. And there is surfing, of course, from Malibu to North Shore to Jeffrey’s Bay - from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. There are special effects, stunts (coordinated by Noah Johnson) and a narration by Mike Judge, a surfer responsible for Beavis and Butthead, and the now-scarily prophetic political satire Idiocracy.
Many layers. Sitting down to watch Bunker 77 is like pulling into a long, long barrel at Skeleton Point or Rifles: a lot of light and images and sound and fury flash by very fast in sections long and short. Time stands still and warps, and when you come flying out the end you're all 'Whoa!' and you try to remember all you just saw and felt, but it's an overload.
Faces and places, black and white and color - Wide Lux to Super 8 to 8K Red - all mixed together with a pinch of psychedelics to explain the short, colorful life of Adolph Bernard Spreckels III. Born in 1949, Bunker was lucky to live an idyllic, Howdy Doody childhood in southern California through the 1950s. Ask anyone from Tubesteak to Dora to your parents or grandparents: The 50s were the time to be in So Cal - when Encino was rural and Malibu was outskirts, and people were cruising in Nomads and Corvettes, rocking out to Elvis and Patsy Cline and Little Richard. America was a new superpower, jobs were plentiful.
And the 50s were also sweet in Hawaii - where the Spreckels have a long and prosperous history, explained in Bunker 77. The Spreckels were allies and bankers to Hawaiian royalty, so when young Adolph visited with his parents, he was treated like a prince. He saw his family name on sugar packets at the Royal Hawaiian and small towns on Maui, and learned to surf with the beach boys at Waikiki.
So Cal in the 50s, and the livin’ was easy. Adolph’s daddy was rich (very rich, like $50 million in 50s dollars rich) and his momma was good lookin’. But Adolph Spreckels Jr. and Kay Williams just couldn’t get along, and they divorced in 1952. Kay Williams must have been more than a little bit of alright, because she began dating and then married Clark Gable in 1955 - the biggest movie star in the world, already famous for his Oscar-winning It Happened One Night (1934), Call of the Wild (1935), Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind (1939).
But to Adolph III and his sister Joan, Gable was just “pa.” Clark Gable was big on hunting and fishing and outdoor sports, and he mentored young Adolph in these pursuits - he was an excellent archer. So Adolph was lucky to be born in 1949 and through the 1950s and Bunker 77 has CinemaScope-quality clips of Adolph’s blonde, blue-eyed, happy, star-studded youth.
He was a good looking kid and a happy kid - why wouldn’t he be?
But as the 60s hit, life took a turn: Clark Gable died in November of 1960 and Adolph Junior died the next year, leaving 11-year-old Adolph III without a father figure - at the most delicate of ages.
But the death of Adolph Junior also stopped his madcap depletion of the family inheritance, and Adolph spent his teens aware that just over the horizon, a fortune was waiting for him.
Like a whole bunch of well-known surfers who came from busted homes - Miki Dora, Tubesteak, Kelly Slater, Layne Beachley, Lisa Andersen, Maya Gabeira - Adolph III drowned his emotions in the adrenaline of the sunny surf - and found a new family at sea. He took his first steps in Waikiki, and by the early 1960s he was a regular at Malibu and the Los Angeles beaches.
On the North Shore, in the early 1960s, Adolph lived in a pillbox up above the North Shore with a Wide-Lux view from Pipeline to Sunset. Tanned and fit and alive, he lived off the land, schnibbed showers in Billy Hamilton’s backyard, was hanai adopted by Joann Hamilton and earned the name “Bunker” - because let’s face it, “Adolph” was about as popular a name to World War II baby boomer kids as Bin Laden is now.
Bunker was one of the earlier guys to adopt a shortboard mentality on the North Shore. He rode weird, thick-tailed, short single fins that might have inspired George Greenough to scratch his bowl cut and mutter, “Weir-dough!” But Bunker rode those weird boards well, and was going right at Backdoor on little boards, even before the Herbie/Hynson days.
Bunker is better known for his fur-coated, drug-fueled antics on land - and his death - but at sea, he was an innovator, and that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Like a lot of surfers in the 1960s, it was California in the summer, Hawaii in the winter. At Malibu, Bunker fell under the wing of Miki Dora - who called Bunker a “genetic space child” because the kid just seemed to have an ethereal, blonde, blue-eyed, lean, Aryan beautiful glow about him.
Maybe Bunker saw a father figure in Dora.
Maybe Dora saw a wealthy mark in Bunker - that is discussed in Bunker 77.
Born in 1949, Bunker was prime cannon fodder when he turned 18 in 1967, smack in the middle of the Summer of Love and the Vietnam War. All that German blood bubbled ancestrally for war. He attended a military school and had ambitions to go to the Air Force Academy. But this was the 60s, Bunker decided he wasn’t into killing people and just wanted to surf. That caused unrest, and it took some psychiatrists and detectives to pull him out of Hawaii, guide him back to the family compound in Encino and get him out of the draft.
Bunker turned 21 in 1971, and that’s when it all turned. Rabbit Bartholomew and others relate how dangerous it can be for someone that age to inherit that much money at that time, and also how much damage drugs did to that generation.
Act Three of Bunker 77 is Bunker’s sex and drugs and rock and roll decline from 1971 to 1977. The thin, tan, beautiful genetic space child grew into a brawny, surfing version of John Bonham. A wannabe rock and roller, street fighting man and dedicated surfer, but someone with a famous name and famous connections who was uniquely set up to have a good time, all the time: surf, travel, bone chicks, take drugs, have adventures. And that is what Bunker did, lived the dream from California to Hawaii to France to South Africa to Paris to anywhere his 20-something whims wanted to go, because he had more than enough money to do it all. Hunting and causing near-riots in South Africa, falling in love with beautiful Ellie in France, hanging with talented folks high and low, skateboarding in front of the Eiffel Tower, mentoring Tony Alva in the Dogtown days. Living fast and dying young, at 27, of morphine overdose, on the North Shore.
That’s the story told by Takuji Masuda’s masterful Master’s Thesis, and it’s worth seeing. For those who survived, the 70s are fresh in their minds and whimsy. To others, the 70s might as well be ancient Rome. But this documentary is “on for young and old” as the Australians say: a historical, colorful, cautionary tale about the dangers of living fast and dying young.
Bunker 77 took 12 years for Takuji to assemble and polish and the credits are a Who’s Who of some of the best creative minds behind and in front of the camera, in the surfing world and Hollywood. Takuji is peripatetic, moving around a lot from Europe to Malibu to Hawaii, but he is hyper-social and collaborative and this project is a collaboration with many: Rock stars, surf photographers, writers, surfers, movie stars. It’s star-studded and many-layered and a sophisticated cut above most surf projects.
What other surf project inserts a Paris ballet set to Ravel’s Bolero? And it looks cool as it sounds.
Bunker Spreckels was the child of privilege who took the money and ran to Hawaii, where he rode too-short boards at Pipeline and paved the way for many style-masters to come.
Takuji Masuda is a child of privilege who rode longboards at Pipeline when that wasn’t cool, but made a name for himself as a unique style master. Bunker 77 has all kinds of energy powering it. A Surfer Magazine Surf Video Awards nomination should be a slam dunk, and possibly a win.
Is there an Academy Award nomination out there for Bunker 77? That would be rewarding, and deserved. See for yourself. That would feel good to Takuji, the privileged surf kid who had everything available to him, went out and did something worthy.
Bunker 77 will make its west coast premiere at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in February. For other showings, go to the website at www.bunker77film.com