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.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.