The New Film Every Adventurer Needs To See
Mountain, 2017. Photograph courtesy of Dogwoof
The rock climbing documentary to watch now.
When Mr Alex Honnold goes rock climbing, he wears his favourite red T-shirt, cut-off nylon pants and simple La Sportiva footwear. What he does not wear is a rope. In the vertigo-inducing opening sequence of new documentary Mountain, we see how high this renowned free solo rock climber is prepared to go without any safety equipment, the camera picking up Mr Honnold as a red speck on the side of El Toro, a 2,500ft-high pillar of rock in the El Potrero Chico climbing area of Mexico.
The sheer drops keep coming in a film that offers a dazzling exploration of our obsession with high places and the lengths we’ll go to experience them. It’s the work of documentary filmmaker Ms Jennifer Peedom in collaboration with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, whose classical scores and original music amplify the majesty of, and our madness on, the highest reaches.
Up to three centuries ago, mountains were considered no-go zones, places for the holy and untold horrors. The pursuit of great heights only really took hold in the 19th century, as explorers looked up for new places to conquer. It’s a spirit that has endured, as has alpinist style. In Mountain’s earliest archive footage, base-camp chambray shirts, robust beige shorts and ribbed woollen rollneck sweaters were accessorised with vest pocket cameras and enviably full beards. This pioneer spirit was marked by a certain Edwardian formality – Mr George Mallory wearing a Harris tweed three-piece suit and sheepskin boots on his 1924 Everest expedition.
Everest was officially conquered on 29 May 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Mr Tenzing Norgay. This was the moment that adventure entered the popular imagination, says actor Mr Willem Dafoe, the narrator of Mountain, reading from a script co-written by acclaimed nature author Mr Robert MacFarlane. So, mountains became the playgrounds of an increasingly urban population, to be tackled by foot, skis or in cable cars.
In the modern era, Ms Peedom’s documentary careers through a series of death defying stunts as thrill seekers seek to outdo each other at every hairpin turn. Mr Antonio Vivaldi’s “Concerto No.2” soundtracks a hair-raising zigzag through forests on skis. Snowboarders launch themselves from helicopters. Mountain bikers fling themselves and their two wheels off cliff edges. Here, the clothes can be as outlandish – witness the all-in-one wing suits for sky diving. Some high-tech sportswear – ski goggles, fleece trousers, rubber hiking boots – is strictly for the slopes. But a convergence of style and functionality pioneered by the likes of Patagonia, The North Face and Moncler, means alpinist design is now as popular with business executives and style conscious celebrities as it is with mountain guides.
In Mountain, technology enables Ms Peedom and her crew to reach cinematic heights, the incredible cinematography drawn from more than 2,000 hours of footage using drones and GoPros. It means the bright, primary coloured parade of adventure seekers is easy to spot in the film, by dint of their fantastic red The North Face all-in-ones and that access-all-areas camera work. But no matter what we wear – be it shell down jacket bright or classic adventure style – we remain just specks on the mountain.
Mountain is released on 15 December