Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Man Who Skied Down Everest (1975)

1 Win, 1 Nomination

Win: Best Documentary, Features - F.R. Crawley, James Hager, and Dale Hartleben



The Man Who Skied Down Everest features one of the most heart-stopping and terrifying sequences I have ever seen on film, in which a man skis 6,600 feet down the tallest mountain on the planet in just two minutes and twenty seconds before falling 1,320 feet and finally arresting his fall just 250 feet from a deadly crevasse.  Unfortunately, that sequence doesn't come for more than an hour into the film, and the first hour isn't terribly compelling despite truly horrendous circumstances that should have led to a far more interesting narrative.

Directors Bruce Nyznik and Lawrence Schiller documented Japan's Yuichiro Miura's incredible effort not only to ski down Mount Everest, but first to ascend it, no small task.  Climbing Mount Everest is a slow and deliberate process in which climbers must methodically climb the mountain, stopping frequently along the way in order to acclimate to the altitude.  This process is depicted in painstaking detail, but because the film doesn't allow the audience to get to know the people on the expedition in a meaningful way, the periods of inactivity grind the film to a dragging pace.  The narrator, Douglas Rain (who should sound familiar to those who have seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which he voiced HAL), tells the audience of the dangers and hardships, but this is an example of the pitfall of telling rather than showing.

The 1970 Japan Everest Expedition of which Yuichiro Miura was a part was an ambitious effort to ascend the mountain the mountain's southwest face in addition to Miura's ski, and resulted in one of the worst tragedies in the mountain's history.  Eight Sherpa climbers died in an avalanche during the ascent, and this horrendous event, the reaction of the Sherpa community that followed, and their resolve to carry on are emotional and touching.

Perhaps a more apt title for the film would have been The Man Who Slowly and Methodically Climbed Up Everest and Also Skied Down.  Any successful effort to climb Mount Everest is an exciting event worthy of documenting, but several more recent films have captured this far more successfully than The Man Who Skied Down Everest.  The footage of Miura's descent down the mountain is shocking and jawdropping, but seems almost beside the point after the rest of the film.  Still, the film is worth watching for this sequence alone, and any mountain climbing geek like myself will enjoy The Man Who Skied Down Everest.




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