Photo Play is an oldie but a goodie. Shot in 2006, its loaded with talent that’s still in the business which is an extraordinary feat when 6 years (I’m writing this in 2012) in a sport as risk-prone and punishing as pro-skiing could be considered a lifetime.
James Heim, now skiing largely for Matchstick and Sherpa Cinema opens up with all the explosive thrills that high cliff hucking and throwing back country threes can provide. Given that Heim’s made this his stock in trade today, it’s kind of amazing to see him do it early in his career with the same aplomb and fearlessness. It’s like seeing an early Van Gogh painting – the trademark touches and stylistic flourishes are all there in their nascent form. And when you see the work done later in his career, the refinements to those earlier touches are appreciated all the more.
Photo Play also features Canadian ski icon Charley Ager’s first movie appearance, with loads of his signature switch landing in steep powder moves and even one shot riding a hand rail. His subsequent movies have borne out this guy’s huge talent, so it’s cool to see the birth of a ski movie star.
Wiley Miller, Joe Schuster and Mike Hornbeck also deliver standout performances.
On the film making side, the energy in the editing is exhilarating as Jeff Thomas moves from back country hucks to park ramps to urban rails – sequences that he will punctuate with a horrifying crash to give you a nerve-racking jolt, making you cover your eyes and reminding you that this is no Hollywood special effects fest. These feats are real, these athletes are flesh and blood and there are painful consequences in this sport. Thomas doesn’t set up a repeating pattern with this, he does it just enough to bring the viewer back to reality after he’s made you think the woods and the parks are full of flying dudes with crossed skis. His editing of the follow-cam shots (in the TJ Schiller sequence for example) show other good directorial moves as he edits out everything that isn’t a jump and so sets up an unrelenting sequence hi-lighting Schiller’s skills for the monster skier that he is. His establishing shots are cunningly edited in, whether skipping ahead with a stutter effect or switching the film grain or cutting to black and white. He shows imagination in his final product and in so doing shows why he’s been tapped in recent years by Poor Boyz to work on their main features with bigger budgets. Thomas’ talent as a film-maker is on clear display here and that makes Photo Play a great watch, even years after its original release. By Mark “The Attorney General” Quail