Angie Pontani is the queen of modern burlesque. In between numbers, she was kind enough to give us an interview for the film. And Mother Nature was kind enough to hold off the downpour just long enough to enable the sexiest, skin-glisteningest performance of Hukilau 2012.
In June 2011, we embarked on Plastic Paradise. Our first interview took us to Cocoa Beach, Florida, home of Wayne Coombs’s Mai Tiki Studio Gallery. Wayne was one of America’s most renowned tiki carvers, and the author of what’s come to be known as the Florida style of tiki design. We knew that to accurately tell the story of the tiki revival, we had to have Wayne in the film. What we didn’t know is how much of a character he would turn out to be, or how much we’d like him. Wayne was a huge guy — well over six feet tall, maybe closer to seven — who blared classic rock music while he carved and seemed to enjoy life as much as anybody. The day we were there, it was particularly hot — June-in-Cocoa-Beach hot — but Wayne was happy to have us follow him around his shop and even give him direction. (“Wayne, you want to face this way when you do that?”)
We spent about four hours with him that day, figured we had taken up enough of his time, and started to pack up our equipment. Wayne, though, wouldn’t let us go. He and his wife, Rebekah, treated us to lunch at a favorite restaurant across the street from the studio. Then, before we said our final good-byes, Wayne gave us a gift — a tiki mask he had carved from a palm frond earlier that day while we were filming him in his workshop. The mask hangs proudly in the Common Machine offices.
We’d been looking forward to roping Wayne down to South Florida for the premiere of Plastic Paradise. Then, a little over a week ago, we heard he had died unexpectedly. Our condolences go out to his family and friends.
We were fortunate to be able to capture Wayne on film, doing what he loved to do, and we look forward to sharing that with his fans. Lord knows, that’s a lot of people.
We’ll miss him.
I never thought I’d see neo-tiki bars opening up in Manhattan, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Berlin… Real tiki bars, doing the décor, doing all the drinks, doing everything right, in the classic way.
Opened in May of 2010 — and recognized by Esquire Magazine as one of the best bars in America — PKNY is a New York City tiki bar that, in the words of co-owner Richard Boccato, “incorporates the traditions of the venerable old establishments but with a proper Lower East Side attitude.”
Inspired by its creators’ previous experience at Prohibition-era craft cocktail establishments like Milk and Honey and Little Branch, Boccato says they wanted to “take everything we had learned over the years and apply it, without just pouring bottles randomly into a pitcher and pressing a button on a blender. We wanted to make things very calculated, but at the same time, fun.”
To come up with the drink menu and make sure they were doing it right, the PKNY crew visited tiki bars in London, Hawaii, and St. Lucia, and made multiple visits to the Mai-Kai. Time well spent. “What people like to order is what people around the world call the Painkiller; we call it the PK, respectfully,” says Boccato. “Our Mai Tai is quite formidable. Our Scorpion Bowls are to be enjoyed by one and all. The pantheon of tiki cocktails that we have incorporated into our vocabulary is pretty substantial.”
Boccato and company made appearances and a massive amount of drinks at the 2012 edition of the Hukilau, solidifying their place as respected purveyors of authentic tiki cocktails, something they don’t take lightly.
"You need to do your homework," says Boccato. "This tiki thing is evolving and we hope that we can contribute as much as we can in a positive aspect."
No tiki doc would be legit without a core interview with the man we like to call Tiki Moses (though we’re not so sure he likes that name), so last September, Common Machine producers Brett O’Bourke and Gaspar González jumped on a flight to LA to sit down with Sven Kirsten, author of the much revered Book of Tiki.
Sven was kind enough not only to give us his LA tiki tour (Oceanic Arts, lunch at the Bahooka, no small collection of urban archeology and, of course, the Tiki Ti), but he also offered his Silver Lake bungalow for the filming of his interview, as well the interviews with Otto Von Stroheim (who generously flew in from San Francisco) and famed tiki artist Shag.
As you’d expect, Sven’s abode contains an impressive collection of Polynesian flotsam and jetsam, making it an ideal set piece. Things got even better when we had an unexpected surprise on our last night there (after yet another excursion to the Tiki Ti and dinner at El Chavo): Sven, Otto, and Shag were joined by artist Kevin Kidney to form a kind of Mount Rushmore of Polynesian Pop on Sven’s front porch, with Sven leading the discussion about the earliest days of the West Coast tiki revival. And, yes, the camera was indeed rolling.
While, for various reason we won’t bore you with, none of that footage will appear in Plastic Paradise, we’ll release the entire conversation here in the weeks to come. Check back early and often.
The appeal of tiki? It seems to get away from reality. And it’s fun. Why go to Hawaii? You can have Hawaii in your backyard.
Oceanic Arts, in Whittier, CA, has been the go-to shop for Hollywood set decorators, tiki fanatics, and Polynesian-themed restaurants since 1956. We interviewed owners Leroy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting about their long and storied history importing real shrunken heads, plastic palm trees, and everything in between.
If you had talked to me in 1999, I would have said, ‘Everyone who will ever be interested in tiki is already interested in it. That’s it.’ But people are still coming to it.
Tiki is a genuine appreciation for Polynesian culture, together with an irony about how wild people went with it in the mid-century. It’s taking it seriously and not taking it seriously at the same time.
Common Machine’s upcoming documentary, Plastic Paradise: A Swingin’ Trip Through America’s Polynesian Obsession, tells the story of tiki culture’s original rise and fall in the mid-20th century, and its recent rediscovery by a new generation of Polynesian popsters.
Filmed in Los Angeles, New York, and Fort Lauderdale — much of it on location at the world-famous Mai Kai during Hukilau 2011 — Plastic Paradise features interviews with Sven Kirsten, Beachbum Berry, Tiki Kiliki, Otto von Stroheim, Swanky, King Kukulele, Shag, Tiki Bob, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, and many more. Artist and designer extraordinaire Kevin Kidney is the film’s art director.
The doc will hit the film festival circuit later this year before airing on PBS in 2013.