After a bangin’ opening sequence featuring fast melting ice cut with Chris Cunningham caliber edits, the coloring all silver, white and slate, After Dark slides into a night ski trip through the trees in an early Pink Floyd sort of way. The snow sprays kicked up by the skiers shine bright at first and then revert to the blackness of the abyss. It must have been a bitch of a shoot to get those shots in snow as deep as that but what a great result. And when the title card comes up you realize that all that you have seen so far was just the opening. So you sit back and get ready to have your head scrambled after such a wicked initial segment.
And then the air goes out of the tires on this vehicle… This is despite the fact that Parker White delivers one of the most varied sequences in any film anywhere. It’s devastating skiing: park, rails, big mountain, White nails it all but why are those tires getting wobbly? – THE SOUNDTRACK MUSIC MAKES A LEFT-HAND TURN INTO A WALL OF WET COW PIES! The English pop, Beatlesque stylings of The Kinks, much as I might love ‘em otherwise, do not match the vibe of White’s skiing. This is like basic fashion – you don’t wear black socks with sandals, right? Well, you also don’t put a left-field, vaguely 1930’s London music hall vibe up against the electro-shock skiing of Parker White. It just doesn’t go.
Next up you get Chris Logan’s amazingly aggressive assortment of hand drags, 720s and a 1080 that all righteously tear up the screen. Right on his heels is Alex Bellemare. Agile and confident, this kid’s going to have ridiculously awesome style in two years ‘cause he’s already great now. But, again, the choice of music screws it up. Symphonic hip hop adds nothing to the vibe of this sequence. Yeah, Mos Def is the man but the music’s feel is way too relaxed considering the talent savagely blasting off the screen.
Similarly Al Green’s exquisite 1960s Memphis sounds in “The Letter” are the bomb but not when it’s to underpin Mike Hornbeck shredding everything he sets his skis on. Hornbeck’s style blazes while the song is a soul heartbreaker about a guy trying to get home to his depressed woman. Neither the footage nor the track profit by their association.
After that salvo of buzz kills, After Dark was pretty well dead to me. There’s one redeeming sequence in Russia where Wallisch, Dadali and Hornbeck slay Moscow last winter in a way that Napoleon and his army never could. The Red Army Choir’s “Kalinka” anchors the beautiful micro editing of our skiing soldiers getting hammered on vodka shoots. Really sick and slick in a good way. But it’s not enough to resuscitate After Dark.
Standing alone, these tracks are cool. I mean, jeez, they got Whodini and Isaac Hayes here. But the music’s gotta be used in the right place. Whimsical or somewhat mournful tracks are going to have a hard time soundtracking what are some of the most exciting and electrifying developments in sports today. The whole vibe that the visuals and the music have when they come together in After Dark seems incongruous. Some ski movies can pull it off, I’m not saying it cannot be done, but it’s a rare thing. Filip Christensen at Field Productions pulls it off from time to time but it’s clear he’s careful with the editing style and the choice of shot.
Look, if you ski in a Level 1 film you are with some of the best stylists in skiing today and you are working with a talented director (Josh Berman’s shots from the helicopter here are dramatically inventive and give you dizzy spins, so good are the angle and the focus). But if you ever doubted the importance of the soundtrack to sports action films, After Dark is a warning about what happens when you don’t get it right. By Mark “The Attorney General” Quail