The Eighty Six
Now, this is a movie.
Weight, last year’s offering from Stept Productions was an intricately edited urban skiing affair where it was clear that a lot of time and thought had been put into the end result. The Stept crew were honing their editing and directorial chops as well as their skiing and it made the movie a hard-core, thrilling spectacle. The Eighty Six amplifies this even further and what they’ve ended up with comes closer to a work with a singular, identifiable vibe, rather than a collection of sequences edited to the beat in rock video fashion that is common in the ski movie genre. The Eighty Six presents the Stept skiers as a cohesive group of athletes who single-mindedly explore every possible urban setting for skiing. They don’t come across as macho hot-doggers or energy-drink sucking dudes who are about one-upping the competition. This sense of intense dedication to finding the right setting, to getting by security and to stomping the trick make the Stept Crew seem like Shaolin monks: their discipline and their skills are undeniable.
As a film, apart from the skiing, The Eighty Six has some sweet tricks starting with a long, single shot in the opening that would make Martin Scorsese proud. It starts at street level, proceeds up a ladder and then works it’s way around the top of a three-story building before Cam Riley makes the jump off. It conveys in spades Stept’s guerilla film-making style and pays homage to every great heist film that opens with a job being pulled off in improbable circumstances (think of everything from the Pink Panther to The Dark Knight). It’s an appropriate start for a movie called The Eighty Six where the target, the aim, is to get the shot, whether it be in a waterslide park, on campus, or just generally on private property before they get turfed by the cops, both real and rental varieties. The other film element worth pointing out is the editing. Last year’s movie showed a lot of ingenuity in the way the shots were presented in the final product. This year’s offering is another step up with the editing here being on par with the best of serial televisions current shows where editing is used as a vital tool to convey a sense of pending drama (and this includes Breaking Bad). As with Weight, the shots here glide, skip and twist around matching the style of the skiers and it’s interesting to watch their editing style develop. When any member of the Stept editing crew, Nick Martini, Cam Riley, William Desena and Clayton Vila, decides they want to go to work in Hollywood film or extended serial dramatic television, they’re going to have a career.
Further helping to create this timeless, filmic feel, is a well-curated soundtrack. When backed with wonky left-field tracks with zero bombast like Mojo Filter’s “Red Right Hand” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Cartoons and Cereal” these ski sequences avoid the realm of the garden variety rock video. The sense of understatement found in recordings like these tends to enhance the viewing of the skier’s performance. Or maybe I’m just bored of the soundtracks blasting with big rock guitars while the skier blasts off a kicker. Either way, what Stept has done here (and I said it before with Weight) is create something that is going to endure multiple viewings without losing its luster.
And don’t let the focus on the film aspects take away from the achievements in the skiing here. All skiers in The Eighty Six are on an upward swing with their skills – they keep getting better and better. Shea Flynn, for one, punches hard. He’s skiing with even more finesse and style than his terrific opening sequence in 2011’s Weight. His precision in his spins and jibs is something most of us are going to have to accept as being unattainable. With his Taliban beard and his ski assault skills, he’s the new look in urban terrorism. Charlie Owens matches the terrorist vibe with his IRA-style balaclava and his bone-breaking tricks actually end him up with some broken bones but that doesn’t cut his segment too short as he rips rail after rail. Clayton Vila’s creative combos have you shaking your head in astonishment. And, it’s almost to be expected, Cam Riley’s opening sequence is replete with long rails and treacherous drops. It’s the type of thing you play your non-skiing friends when you want to scare the crap out of them.
With The Eighty Six, Stept Productions are now certainly among the best of the ski movie production companies. But it’s not that they are going to supplant Level 1 or any of the other production companies that focus on urban skiing. What they bring to the table is another vision of what ski movies can be and this allows them to stand on their own, shoulder to shoulder, with the other film crews that devote their time to this work. And, frankly, who can argue against having more distinct visions in this genre? By Mark “The Attorney General” Quail