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Mon December 10, 2007
To each his own.
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
Steep is a steep lesson in insanity, as good a study of carelessness and benign dementia as you will ever see in even the most vivid documentary on mental health set in the worst St. Elizabeth's or fictional cuckoo's nest. The movie is efficient at showing the extreme limitations of language and even photography depicting the grandeur of nature and the folly of men (and one woman). After all, how many words can adequately describe remote vistas up close and personal in a world where only the wealthy can helicopter in, ski down, and be back to the lodge by evening for hot whatever?
For that matter, after seeing almost identical long shots of skiers swerving over pristine snow in wildly different locations, the jaded might ask, so what else do you have that's different? If it sounds like a film critic's jealousy that these super human beings can traverse a 70 degree decline in the mountains of Alaska or Iceland, then you are right. The film successfully induces extreme envy.
Steep is expert at promoting a lifestyle of danger and exhilaration, both companions to the odds that one's life may be shortened by 20 to 40 years if you take enough chances. I do love, regardless of my criticism above, the otherworldly white slopes and the sense of singular achievement in successfully descending almost insurmountable, inhospitable terrain.
Although I am aware of the rush attendant upon gliding down a mountain anywhere outside of Ohio, and Steep gives multiple examples both visually and audibly, I cannot yet accept that anyone would exchange that immediate thrill for the high chance of losing a life. One such hero, occupying at least half the documentary time narrating and showing off on the slopes, loses his life trying to save a fallen friend in a crevasse--how could all that be worth it even in heroism? It makes me feel cheated, as in a Coen brothers' film where a prominent character suddenly leaves the narrative without warning. That's ok for a satire, but a real life documentary about the extreme danger of an extreme sport is another matter entirely.
Yet Bill Briggs, who first descended the 13, 370 foot Grand Teton in 1971, opens and closes the film like John Glenn gleefully narrating about the romance of space travel. And Briggs is in his 60's, so what do I know? I'm not skiing Iceland, but I'm inspired to visit my daughter in NYC, where her current challenge is bedbugs. To each his own.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com