Solitaire – Review of Sweetgrass Productions Film for Winter 2011-12

Post by blogger | September 13, 2011      

Backcountry skiing movie and film reviews.

The search for significance. When we’re asked why we go to the mountains, perhaps, for some of us, that’s the honest answer. Our quest perhaps takes the form of a journey, or a series of journeys, into the heart of the wild. Such is the theme of this year’s Sweetgrass Productions ski movie, “Solitaire.”

With director Nick Waggoner’s cinematic work on previous Sweetgrass flicks, I’ve come to expect a level of eye candy that conveys the texture, sound and eyeball fest — practically the smells — of mountain adventure. Yet sometimes, the stories Nick tried to tell got lost in the pans, crane shots, stunts and wipes. Not this time. It’s all there.

By adapting Joseph Conrad’s writing from his vaunted literary masterpiece “Heart of Darkness,” Waggoner creates a prose poem to go with his visuals and near perfectly selected music. Make no mistake, this is not your typical ski porn. Rather, you are receiving something that attempts to convey the true spirit of human powered alpine adventure. Really, any adventure.

“He lived as he dreamed, and so he went a little farther, alone, until he had gone so far he didn’t know how he would ever get back.”

Perhaps that part from the film narration overstates the case. Yet isn’t this part of our nature? To journey into mystery, be it emotional, physical or spiritual, sometimes not knowing where it will end, or how we’ll return?

More, while our adventures might appear to be 100% self indulgent fun to the outsider, for many of us we do indeed have something else going on. Thus, when one of the film score song lyrics state it is “not what it seems,” you might start thinking, yeah, for me a lot more goes on here than just making powder turns.

The timing of Soitaire appears difficult; kudos to Waggoner and associates for taking the risk of mixing an unusual narrative with the usual (and sometimes yawn inducing) modern ski film formula of music covered “segments” portraying energetic skiing and riding. More so, Solitaire presents the Conrad based prose poem in earthy Spanish, with subtitles. I found that odd, but oddly compelling. The narrator’s voice is soulful, and if you know any Spanish his locution is easy to understand to whatever extent your skills allow. One minor critique of this arrangement: the subtitles need to be fairly large and located in such a way as to be readable without ignoring the visuals, and I’m not sure they’re ideal. Pacing helps with that as well (not too fast) and in this respect the narrative is near perfect.

To convey the experience this film suggests, I would have liked to hear more location sound. Waggoner mixes a bit of that in, but the music and narration take charge and you only get the occasional hint of a clicking ski pole tip or chattering ski, set off by brief clips of the narrator warming his adventure gnarled hands over a crackling fire (a wonderful contrasting touch to all that white stuff). You also find yourself almost painfully waiting for one of the athletes to talk. That is not to be; perhaps for the good, since that tension makes you yearn for the voice of the narrator and you read those subtitles like you’re consuming the archetypical book of secrets.

Make no mistake, when you watch the fifty or so minutes of Solitaire you’ll get your share of the Sweetgrass goods. Snowboarders, telemarkers and alpiners mix it up fine, with plenty of backcountry jibbing and air thrown in if that’s your passion. The human powered ethic is blatant as well. I like that.

In fact, I’ve recently become more passionate for human power being a defining criteria in certain ski films, and we’re considering limiting our reviews to ski movies that are predominantly glycogen fueled. Not that we’re trying to be prissy elitists who stare at our skinny stomachs in the mirror before and after our three tablespoons of oatmeal every morning. We’re still enthusiastic about how modern technology such as snowmobiles and helicopters can get us to the alpine — to the place where muscles take over. Yet the strength of the human-power spirit appears to be resonating so strongly, across generations, across borders, how can we not support it? We love it. We’ve always loved it!

Overall, one word comes to my mind regarding Solitaire: “REAL.” The film has an overall feel of authenticity. Not overstated, no hero worship. A spirit of “here we are, this is what we do, and here is one take on the deeper side of the whole deal.”

Sure, if you lose your “suspension of disbelief” for a moment you’ll start wondering just how they got that camera up there, or begin thinking about how cool is that amazing low-light shooting. Those will be but fleeting distractions. Overall, any snow rider will walk out of this film with much more than a shirt from the swag toss. Indeed, you might ponder and perhaps reach some understanding of why, as the narrator sings in eloquent Espanol, you sometimes seek significance “in the midst of the incomprehensible.”

WORLD PREMIERE SEPTEMBER 15th, 2011 in Denver, CO Gothic Theatre 7pm

Solitaire was shot on location in: Las Lenas, Argentina; Portillo, Chile;
Nevados de Chillan, Chile; Patagonia, Chile; Bariloche, Argentina; Caviahue, Argentina; Huaraz, Peru; Iquitos, Peru; Uyuni, Bolivia; and Sajama, Bolivia.

Featuring: Leo Ahrens, JP Auclair, Ryland Bell, Will Cardamone, Johnny Collinson, Forrest Coots, Stephan Drake, Jacqui Edgerly, Chris Erickson, Sebastian Haag, Kip Garre, Atsushi Gomyo, Kim Havell, Eliel Hindert, Erica Laidlaw, Jaime Laidlaw, Kyle Miller, Osamu “Ommu” Okada, Carston Oliver, Alex Paul, Thayne Rich, Dave Rosenbarger, Don Roth, Elyse Saugstad, Aidan Sheahan, Forrest Shearer, Ptor Spricenieks, Thomas Steiner, Drew Stoecklein, Taro Tamai, Jack Tolan… and honoring Arne Backstrom and Kip Garre.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


11 Responses to “Solitaire – Review of Sweetgrass Productions Film for Winter 2011-12”

  1. Jman September 14th, 2011 9:14 am

    Nice and fair write-up…thanks for the head’s up and I can’t wait to see it tomorrow!

  2. Lou September 14th, 2011 9:16 am

    Jman, please report back!

  3. Lou September 14th, 2011 9:17 am

    P.S., sorry about spelling of Nick’s name in review, am fixing, always have trouble with is last name (grin). Official spelling (from Facebook) Waggoner with the double g. Funny, I googled it and got all sorts of variations, Wagonner, Wagoneer, and so on. Lou

  4. Tim M. September 14th, 2011 10:54 am

    j. blevins of the denver post gave it a pretty stellar review on the denver post this week:

    good luck, crew, with the premiere. looking forward to seeing this one.

  5. Lou September 14th, 2011 11:13 am

    We’ll be interested in your take, Tim. You reviewing it somewhere?

  6. David Gardner September 14th, 2011 3:39 pm

    Yeah I have been waiting for this film for 2 years. Signatures was great, takes a different look into the “ski porn” more of a documentary style. I am checking it out tomorrow night in Denver. Also if you get a chance we’d love to have you check out our new Outdoor Adventure Social Network, see website above. Thanks for the review Lou.

  7. Maciej September 22nd, 2011 10:54 am

    Just saw this movie last night in Ft. Collins. It was great watching a ski movie which emphasized natural beauty and the challenges of the backcountry as much as skiing/snowboarding itself.

  8. Wyatt September 24th, 2011 6:32 pm

    Lou, out of curiosity, what is your favorite ski movie ot all time? Or maybe a list of your top favorites. I need to collect some to get me excited for ski season (not that I’m not already…).

  9. Lou September 25th, 2011 6:20 am

    Wyatt, I’ m thinking about it…

  10. RD November 9th, 2011 11:57 pm

    I just saw the movie tonight and it was certainly different than any ski movie I have seen (even their last movie signatures). I really loved this movie and highly recommend it. The Joseph Conrad is a great touch, but I agree with the review that it is hard to read the subtitles and take in the amazing footage at the same time. I was continuously amazed by how many great shots they got so high up on very impressive mountains with all human powered ascension.

    The fact that they hiked for every turn really stimulates the imagination of the skier in the audience to get leave their home turf and to climb and ski new dramatic terrain. I hope this trend continues in the backcountry ski movie world.

  11. Dimitri November 10th, 2011 2:10 am

    “Steep” is an all time classic and my fav.

    ill need to see this one and all.i.can as well, i was a little disappointed by “breaking trail”

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