Superheroes of Stoke
I get emails from readers who comment that I’m too generous with my praise for filmmakers whom the reader feels simply rehash what was done in the previous year’s movie. It’s a complaint that I also see from time to time on the ski chat forums. It’s not a baseless complaint either, when leveled at some production companies, but is it a rational complaint? I dealt with this concept in my review for last year’s Matchstick movie Attack of La Nina. At the risk of being ironic (ie repeating myself in same way that the movie companies are charged), let’s take a look at it in connection with Matchstick’s latest offering Superheroes of Stoke.
Every ski movie company has their signature touches – the style they’re known for, where they film, or the personality of their crew. Matchstick is no different: they have their key segments – the amazing big-air shoot at Whistler, the way they film their powder sequences, the fact that they pretty well always have a segment with the best women skiers (which is important because we need something to show our daughters). Producing ski movies for twenty years, as Matchstick has now done, is definitely going to help sand off rough edges until an identifiable form begins to emerge. Compare the early works of any ski movie production company to their latest offering and I’m pretty sure you are going to see a lot of good ideas but rough execution in the early films and a lot of similar ideas with some slick rendering in their newer films. It’s just to be expected.
So, someone could say, “damn that Matchstick, they keep making the same movie every year”, because they believe they’re seeing the same old stuff. Thing is, when you’re paying close attention, you’re not really seeing the same old stuff. So, SOS opens up, as Matchstick films usually open up, with a segment featuring one skier. These segments are the equivalent of a big-ass guitar solo, all fast and fluid and designed to dazzle. Think of the openers from Mark Abma (especially “Seven Sunny Days”) or Sean Pettit (esp. “In Deep” and “The Way I See It”) – pure rock star stuff. This year we get Richard Permin channeling his inner Hugo Harrison and Mark Abma and then coming across like Sean Pettit meets Sage Cattabriga-Alosa (yes there’s a lot of name dropping there but we’re talking about a huge amount of talent). Underpinned with Jane’s Addiction’s “The Mountain Song” (a song screaming to used in a ski movie if there ever was one), this segment is a stellar piece of sports art – a virtuoso skiing performance beautifully shot and smartly edited. Yes, that’s usually what Matchstick opens up with but with such a bravura show on display, I mean, how could you complain? These movies just keep getting better and better. The fact that Permin manages to outrun not one but two avalanches is SOS makes for amazing moments on film and great repeated viewings.
And so it goes with SOS, you get ace segments with Petit and Permin in Japan, holy $*#&! POV shots with a cliff-hucking Eric Hjorleifson, a killer freestyle segment at Whistler with Gus Kenworthy and Russ Henshaw and banger shots with Cody Townsend and Mark Abma (who looks like he’s healed just fine after two years of knee injuries) in Alaska.
Given that the main theme of SOS is a retrospective look on the 20th anniversary of Matchstick’s first film, the look-backs-in-time compliment the new footage nicely. This juxtaposition draws out one again just how far the art of skiing and the art of sports action filmmaking have come even the past ten years, let alone the past twenty. A better understanding of what’s possible with the skiers, better ski technology and better cameras (love those Sony Red and Cineflex cameras) all make for banger movies.
Weak moments? Very few. I don’t think we need goofy shots of Michelle Parker making faces – It detracts from her down-to-earth granola chick persona and her massive ability on big mountains. But, whatever, right?
That all said, I believe we’re on the cusp of greater things in ski movies as the use of camera-carrying flying drones becomes standard. The task now is for ski movie production companies to incorporate the vision that the drones can provide. Combined with helmet cams and heli-mounted gyro balanced cameras, the perspective added with a drone or two could provide the weird sensation of an adrenaline rush while sitting on your sofa. Failing to keep up with the technology will render any ski movie into a lackluster affair, especially when the competition is all over the new vision (see what Field Productions and Sherpas Cinema come out with in the Fall of 2013 to see what I mean). Let’s see what Matchstick does next year.
When the talent stalls out and progression of the sport stops and when the camera movement is predictable and the editing looses it’s ingenuity – then you’ve got a bad movie and the detractors can go to town all they want. But right now, Matchstick can still make great ski movies and Superheroes of Stoke is evidence that while a formula might be identifiable in the movie it does not mean the end product is stale. Far from it, actually. By Mark “The Attorney General” Quail