Not terribly far back in human history, the idea of setting out to scale a massive mountain would have been deemed the height of lunacy.  Many today, including myself, would still think thus.  So what exactly is this siren song of the summit that draws so many upwards risking death and enduring extreme physical and psychological trials?


In an endeavor to show the magic and majesty of the world’s mighty peaks, director Jennifer Peedom, together with Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra have joined with actor Willem Dafoe as narrator to create a documentary film that is truly sublime.  While the mountains in all their theatrical grandeur are the stars here, the gloriously immersive musicality and Dafoe’s concise narration combine to make this an almost dream-like and poetic viewing experience.  Peedom is in quest of the meaning of mountains in man’s psyche.  From earlier times when they were viewed as containing something holy or hostile, through to the origins, nature and depth of man’s more recent and compelling need to scale the highest and most dangerous peaks.


Renan Ozturk’s cinematography (culled from some 2000 hours of footage) is on an epic scale that ranges from sweeping overhead helicopter panoramas, Go-Pro images and heart-in-mouth vertiginous shots on dizzying sheer precipices.  Some scenes such as slow-mo takes of bands of skiers winding through snow and ice and some day / night dissolves are exquisitely done.  To show the global nature of this endeavor, it was filmed in Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, France, Greenland, Iceland, India, Italy, Japan, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, PNG, Scotland, South Africa, Switzerland, Tibet and the U.S.A.  The music score chosen by Tognetti (whose violin work on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is magnificent) also covers Grieg, Beethoven, Chopin and his own compositions.


As a change from the colour-saturated photography, the film also uses old and grainy black and white footage describing the dawn of mountaineering as a human activity, the desire to conquer Everest and the birth of the now massive winter sports industry. 


But while the finished product is a feast for eye and ear, I personally did not find any answers to the initial question posed here.  What specifically is ‘it’ that draws so many to put their lives in danger on these stunning but brutally inhospitable peaks?  A hangover from our ancient days when mountains housed Gods or is it that some people can only feel truly alive when dangerously close to death?  


Perhaps the divide between those who willingly risk all and those who find that attitude incomprehensible may lie in a paraphrasing of Nietzsche…those who dance are considered mad by those who cannot hear the music.




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