an Oscar, attain immortality. That is what media coverage of the Academy Awards
generally suggests. However, without the headline above, could you have named
the best documentary winner from 1976? Honestly, it is a decent film, but it is
not exactly on the tip of a lot of tongues, like so many forgotten statuette
winners. At least Bruce Nyznik & Lawrence Schiller’s The Man Who Skied Down Everest (trailer here) has been restored
by the Academy and recently released on DVD and BluRay from the Film Detective.
Miura twice became the oldest man to summit Everest in 2003 and 2013, but in
the mid-1970s he famous for, you know, skiing down it. His May 1970 expedition
was eventful and duly documented by Nyznik, Schiller, and their intrepid
cinematographer Mitsuji Kanau (who also shot the Sandakan 8, which was nominated for best foreign language film at
the same Oscars). As those who have seen subsequent Everest documentaries
understand, just getting to the mountain is a grueling trek. Unfortunately,
their party met with tragedy when an ice shelf collapsed under six Sherpas.
does in fact question whether his mad scheme can still be justified in light of
their deaths. We hear much from him throughout the film, yet we rarely really
truly hear from him. The voice-overs are entirely adapted from his expedition
journals, but instead of relying on his voice and subtitles, we hear Douglas Rain
(the voice of HAL 9000) narrate the English translations. This was probably
considered a much more accessible strategy at the time, but it makes it far
more difficult to forge an emotional connection with Miura. Rain’s rich
English-sounding Canadian voice arguably is not so well suited to Miura’s
Zen-like meditations, making them sound more self-serious than they probably
there is no question the filmmakers captured some extreme alpinism. Frankly, it
is a little surprisingly some distributor did not think to re-release the Oscar
winning doc during the mini-boomlet for mountaineering films a few years ago. Man Who Skied is particularly notable
because you can argue the 1970 skiing campaign was either a thrilling victory
or an agonizing defeat based on the climatic event itself.
is entirely possible the filmmakers would make different aesthetic decisions if
they were making Man Who Skied today.
Nevertheless, it remains a film with considerable merits (including its respect
for the Sherpas). It might jolly well have been the best documentary released in
1975, for what that’s worth.
you want to see how fleeting supposed “fame” can be, checkout the video of the
producers receiving their Oscars from Beau Bridges and Marilyn Hassett. Bridges
and who? Hassett co-starred with Bridges in The
Other Side of the Mountain, which at that time was one of Universal’s
top-grossing films ever. She won the best newcomer award at that year’s Golden
Globes, without generating any controversy. The Academy declined to nominate
her, but in retrospect it seems almost suspiciously apt they chose the stars of
a skiing drama to give the documentary award in a year when a skiing doc won.
Regardless, it is worth remembering as this year’s presenters make their tiresome
political statements how short the shelf life for fame and Oscar glory can be.
In contrast, Miura did really went out and did
something. It was probably crazy and ill-advised, but he ran the risks just as
much as his unfortunate Sherpas—and he keeps going back out there. Recommended
for extreme sports fans, The Man Who
Skied Down Everest is now available on DVD and BluRay, from the Film Detective.
Labels: Documentary, DVD, Mt. Everest