2011, Movies

The Ordinary Skier (2011, Constantine Papanicolaou)

This is a “TV quality” documentary about the extreme skier Seth Morrison that is very clearly made by someone who makes ski films and not documentaries. (It was produced by Oakley so maybe I should say “brand-sponsored promotional film quality” instead.)

Like many documentaries about extreme athletes, this film doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s ostensibly about Morrison himself, but the biographical material is rather scant. It’s more about his first trip to ski in Chamonix. Really, though, it’s mostly just a ski video interspersed with talking heads (some of whom are never introduced). And that’s too bad, because the skiing footage is excellent and it also seems like this man is interesting enough that a good film could be made about him and what he does.

So the biographical part, as I said, is scant. He briefly sums up his life story in interviews, and we briefly hear from his sister and get some input from his mother and stepfather. There is a brief mention of a crime he committed and a slightly less brief discussion of a huge helicopter accident he was in. (Which is told solely through talking heads and news clippings. It’s weird.) And they mention his age. And Morrison reflects, vaguely, on how his profession has changed over the years. (This is probably the worst bit: We’re not really sure what he’s talking about and the film gives us no context.)

Much of the rest of the film is him and some buddies preparing to ski and skiing Chamonix. This in itself could have been the film, with more biographical information about the friends. I suspect that, because Oakley sponsors only one of these guys (I’m guessing), the decision was made to build the whole film into a film about Morrison himself and not the trip. An expanded version of this portion of the film, with a little more context about Chamonix, the famous gondola and so forth, might have made an excellent film.

Of course, the film isn’t just set in Chamonix, just mostly, which is another reason it’s a bit of mess. There’s no real rhyme or reason I can figure out as to why and I’m guessing there was just not enough quality Chamonix footage.

I’m left wanting more. More of Morrison’s story, or more of extreme skiing’s journey to professionalism in general, or more of the trip to Chamonix. I know a little about the extreme skiing story, but the viewer shouldn’t be the one filling in the blanks in a documentary that is ostensibly about one of the most famous extreme skiers in the world.

Pretty middling.


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