Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Warren Miller

For reasons I won't get into here - it's an issue with Comcast that deeply pisses me off, and today's is a happy blog - my wife and I spent Tuesday night watching a Warren Miller flick. I've pimped him here and there before, most notably back in the old SJ.com days; so, while taking in a decade-old film, it occurred to me that he is more than blog worthy, too.

And, in some ways, it's one of these how-did-I-ever-wind-up-here moments too. Miller makes annual films about skiing and snowboarding in places familiar and remote, all with some of the most gorgeous scenery you'll find anywhere on earth. And the cinematography is outstanding, too.

But it's about hard-core skiing and skiers. And that means the Rockies and west. Pennsylvania? Please. I've seen maybe 5-6 of his films; and I've found it to be an interesting commentary that I've yet to hear any mention of Killington or Sunday River, two places that I always considered to be the preeminent resorts of the east. Any place I've ever laced up skis - Blue Mountain and Big Boulder mainly - stands no chance against Killington and Sunday River, which apparently stand no chance against the West.

Having spent parts of the past four years traipsing around the west, I'm sure I look at Miller's movies in a different light than I would have before I met my wife. (Well, in all honesty, she introduced me to Miller's films; minus her, I wouldn't be writing this.) He often references Sun Valley, Idaho, since that's where he started off making his films (and that's him talking in the voiceover):

I seem to recall having been there for some reason not long ago... Hmmm.

In the movie we watched on Tuesday, Snowriders, we were treated to a segment on some place called Mt. Bachelor. I can't remember if it was real or it was a dream, but I seem to remember standing on top of it. And it's near someplace called Bend, which I seem to recall being important to some folks near and dear to me... Hmmm. (Mark will be able to date the film, since Miller referenced the opening of the 'new' Northwest Express. And yes, my wife told me about it.)

After a quick search on YouTube, I found a handful of clips from Miller, most of them trailers. This one, taken from one of the movies, on one of those other places out west that apparently kicks the ass of anyplace in the east. More importantly, it shows the storytelling his movies do and beautiful camerawork they employ.

Though it's mostly about snowboarding and skiing (with an occasional glimpse of telemarking as well), there are forays into more extreme sports, like BASE jumping.

And then there's this crazy bastard.

There are two shots that Miller and his crews employ frequently, and it's what I enjoy most about the series.

The first is usually used around resort towns with amenities and lodging built around the base of the ski area. The cameraman, standing behind the skier, zooms into a tight shot as they seem to go over a ledge. What's left is the skier doing some sort of aerobatic maneuver against a backdrop of an airliner's view of the resort's buildings. Words really don't do it justice.

Secondly, when some of the featured guests take to heli-skiing, they'll be dropped off at the top of a mountain somewhere, usually with a long and treacherous path back to safety. Inevitably, they'll have a wide view of the mountain and zoom into the skier, who you couldn't even think about finding on the wide shot. Sometimes, they'll do the opposite, and zoom out to show the vast expanse of the landscape; no visual has ever made me feel so small compared to our planet.

That seems to be an overarching theme of the series. The other? Something we all could take to heart.

"If you don't do it this year," Miller often says, "you'll be one year older when you do."

1 comment:

Balarko said...

great blog, brian. Warren Miller has always been a factor to my skiing passion! Now a days, he is a bit old school, as new companies like Teton Gravity Research have raised the bar in extreme skiing, but his movies still pack the Opera House at Sun Vally Lodge every year.