Nothing like a shot of youth culture to get the heart thumping — or put you to sleep. I got a bit of both last Friday night at “The Meeting” ski film festival in Aspen.
First film of our visit was Level 1’s latest urban skiing adventure, Long Story Short. Urban skiing reminds me of rock climb “buildering;” sort of a microcosm of a greater whole. As such, I can appreciate what flexible and fearless kids are doing to bring street skate moves to skiing. Athleticism; good. More skiers to keep skiing’s economics chugging along; good.
That said, Long Story Short’s massive injection of urban jibbing was similar to a heroin overdose in the ghetto where most of the film’s music originates. Basically, what you get on screen is a bunch of young males (no women) sliding down stair railings on skis. Over. And over. And over again. The same rails, different rails, rails in Japan and rails who knows where. Was I alone in reaching rail OD about half way through the film? Too old and stuck in the thawing powder of skiing’s boring old school past? Apparently not, as the rowdy young audience became strangely subdued as the film ground on. No story, no plot, just a bit of interesting athleticism that could have easily been presented in half the time. (To be fair, the film does have some skiing other than that related to stairs, but not much).
Now before you go off on me for being an old stick-in-the mud, let me point out that some powder skiing movies also seem to show the same shot over, and over again. Indeed, Long Story could be seen as a parody of such. Yep, my gripes can be twisted around to bite me. But Long Story had something that kept my thumb firmly turned in the downward position — the music.
A bunch of young white middle class (or better) kids playing on skis to the tune of hiphop rap appears ludicrous, but not funny. Much of such music arises from the sorry state of inner city black ghetto culture, and the lyrics — frequently misogynistic rants about death, violence, drugs and what have you — belie the catchy beat. Watching urban skiing to such tunes was not unlike watching Somalian children starving to the words of Karen Carpenter singing We’ve Only Just BegunTotal cognitive disconnect.
Long Story’s one shining light is its bridge theme. The film makers set up a complex domino fall in a machine shop. Creatively filmed, the flipping dominos and weird machinery lead you into each film segment. Worked for me, though like the rest of the film it got a bit old on the umpteenth iteration. If you like backstory, check out Level 1’s stills of the shop shoot.
Enough Lou, you cry! Leave off the negativity and railing on the rail movie! Okay, on to TGR.
TGR’s movies are predictable, but fun. Super production values, much better music (though the occasional dose of ghetto creeps in here and there) and a bit more variety. Anomaly is no exception. Set up as a travelog of sorts (but with no story and nearly no narration), the footie jumps around the globe. Amazing sequences of Alaskan spine skiing lead to macho avalanche escapes, while plentiful park/pipe keeps the younger set happy (and amazes the oldsters, myself included).
For me the peak of Anomaly was seeing Jamie Pierre’s audacious 25-story cliff jump for God. I don’t know if Jamie’s huck was much in the way of athletic excellence — it seemed more like a daredevil stunt than anything (especially when he lawn-darts in on his head). Yet it is somehow compelling to watch a guy set a record in a sport you at least borderline participate in (yeah, I cliff jump — so long as the drop is under six feet.) Jamie dedicates the jump to Jesus before he hucks, something that seems a bit out there to even a born-again such as myself. On the other hand, a bit of religious expression is refreshing in a film genre where spirituality is usually portrayed as little more than prayer flag collections. After all, most people practice some sort of god stuff, and ignoring that dimension of life contributes to the shallow nature of most adventure sports films.
Speaking of shallow, another problem with today’s ski flicks is they seem almost paranoid of telling a story. It’s certain that in the making of such films all sorts of interesting things happen, not to mention stories about the athlete’s trials that lead to their stunning successes. TGR and other companies have time in the final cuts for the athletes to make goofy (or I’m hip) faces in the camera — how about substituting that with a person actually talking about their passion? I truly believe that a film with the production values and spirit of TGRs offerings, yet with a compelling story line, could break the mold and perhaps even win an Oscar nomination as the extreme skiing film Fall Line did many years ago.
With the inclusion of a Doug Coombs tribute and a bit about an athlete with a spinal injury, Anomaly does speak to reality. But those segments appear as non sequiturs in the general them of the production. Perhaps “stoke” movies with little to no plot are a niche and TGR will stay there, make a living for the crew and keep getting free Jackson Hole tram rides, but they appear to be moving out of that — and so much the better. As for Level One Productions, if you’re shopping for hood jackets they have some nice ones for sale on their website.