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Review: Documentary ‘Bunker77' captures stranger-than-fiction life of bohemian surfer

Bunker Spreckles from the documentary "Bunker77."
Bunker Spreckles from the documentary “Bunker77.”
(Endangered Spirit)

A film about a renowned ’70s surfer with destructive rock star aspirations who was heir to a sugar dynasty and the stepson of Clark Gable might sound like something that could have come only from the fertile imagination of the brothers Coen or Farrelly.

But as board legends Laird Hamilton and Tony Alva can personally attest, Bunker Spreckels was the real deal — a true original who was as entertainingly gonzo as “Bunker77,” the documentary that affectionately pays tribute to his brief but eventful life.

Raised in Encino, the charismatic Adolph Bernard Spreckels III was around 6 when his mom, Kay, became the fifth Mrs. Clark Gable.

While “Bunker” Spreckels’ penchant for combining surfing with psychedelic drugs would ultimately catch up with him, for a while, his dogged pursuit of decadence and lust for reinvention would take him on a Zelig-like odyssey in which he crossed paths with the likes of French choreographer Maurice Béjart and experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger.

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Infusing his film with a scrappy surf punk energy, director Takuji Masuda combines fresh interviews and impressive wave-riding footage with extensive audio of Spreckels in conversation with journalist C.R. Stecyk III, all playfully linked together by Gable movie clips.

Tragically yet fittingly, given his obsession with image-projection, Spreckels died in 1977 (from morphine poisoning) at age 27, just like rock icons Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison before him.

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Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena

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