Thoughts on Mountain (2017)

Mountain (2017) is a feature-length video essay, directed by Jennifer Peedom and mostly shot by Renan Ozturk, on the symbolic relationship between human and mountain. Walking in, I was prepared for the mountain porn—the gorgeous, absolutely stunning vistas and panoramas and drone shots—but I was not prepared for just how much this 74-minute-long film effortlessly includes: mountaintop (motor)cyclists, skiers with and without parachutes, tightrope walkers, shots of individual snowflakes (turns out they’re not flat), lava, nosediving helicopters, vertigo-inducing helmet-cam shots of regular and free solo climbers, an athlete wipeout reel, and a critique of extreme sports online branding and of mountain tourism. Not to mention the poetry of Willem Dafoe’s narration, reading from Robert Macfarlane’s Mountains of the Mind. It’s truly an awesome experience.

Having said all that, I want to point out the most thought-provoking part of the film: the beginning. The film premiered at the Sydney Opera House to live accompaniment by the Australian Chamber Orchestra playing the film’s soundtrack, which consists of classic compositions alongside new music by Richard Tognetti. The start of the film is a black-and-white peek behind the scenes at the orchestra and Dafoe warming up at their respective places. Peedom’s previous film is the acclaimed Sherpa (2015), and this opening scene sets up the orchestra and narrator as not presences sounding off from the ether but our flesh-and-blood guides into the heights. Similarly, the mountain-climbing POV shots that induce the most vertigo are those shot from helmet cams by a person next to a fellow climber who is included in the shot. In contrast to the stunning but monumental drone shots, when your climbing partner is right next to you, you are immediately placed behind the camera. Thank God I don’t mean that literally.

Editor’s note: This piece has been published at Critics at Large along with the piece on Shirkers (2018).

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