Beyond the Edge
Runtime 90 minutes.
OK for children.
When New Zealand beekeeper Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay from Nepal made their attempt to conquer Mount Everest in 1953, there had been 15 failed attempts, resulting in 13 deaths. It was believed by many to be impossible because of the altitude and lack of oxygen.
Written and directed by Leanne Pooley, talking heads were eschewed. What we see and hear in this film are actual interviews with those on the climb. Although there were recreations of some of the events, most of the film consists of remarkable archival film and audio made by the participants.
Explains Producer Matthew Metcalfe, “There are four key elements to this film:
Firstly, you’ve got the original footage from the 1953 expedition – fortunately it’s in color – which was shot on 16mm film and has been brilliantly preserved and recently restored so it’s a wonderful medium to use.
Secondly, the Royal Geographical Society has over 1,000 35mm color stills taken by Alf Gregory on the expedition.
Further, we have all the interviews that each member of the expedition took part in once they came down from the mountain – something they also continued to do for many years afterwards. There’s a wide variety of this archival material available.
Then finally, we have our dramatic re-creations directed by Leanne and filmed on location around the Southern Alps.”
The Southern Alps are located in New Zealand and include Mt. Cook, where Hillary established a reputation as an exceptional mountain climber.
There are so many fascinating aspects of the expedition. One is that Hillary and Norgay weren’t the first members to attempt the ascent. They were members of a team assembled by Sandhurst graduate and WWII veteran, Brigadier John Hunt, who chose British climbers Tom Bourdillon, a physicist who had developed the closed-circuit oxygen apparatus he was using, and Charles Evans to make the first try at the ascent. Only after they failed, because the oxygen equipment did not work properly, did Hillary and Norgay start their attempt up the forbidding mountain.
The cinematography is magnificent, the scenery stunningly beautiful, and the recreations are woven into the narrative so seamlessly that they are almost unnoticeable. The actors playing Hillary and Norgay, Chad Moffit and Sonam Sherpa, respectively, are remarkable lookalikes for the people they are portraying.
Interviews with Hillary (who died in 2008) allow him to describe many of the obstacles they encountered on their climb himself as voiceovers while the film shows the actual climb both through the archival film and the recreations.
I admit to a bias for mountain-climbing movies, so take that into consideration when I say that this is one of the best. You will have an advantage over me, however. The film is shot in 3-D, but I saw it in 2-D on a screener. They had no screenings for the 3-D version which, I would guess, must be eye-popping.
Venus in Fur
Runtime 95 minutes.
Not for children.
Poor Roman Polanski — an accused child molester who can’t return to the United States because of a pending criminal case against him that he ran away from — he’s spent the rest of his career in Europe. He’s won two Oscars as Best Director (Chinatown and The Pianist).
So here, apparently without much money, he basically films David Ives’ Tony Award-winning Broadway play based on Leopod von Sacher-Masoch’s (from whom the word “masochism” is derived) novella of the same name. The two person film stars Mathieu Amalric as writer-director Thomas, who has spent an exhausting day interviewing actresses, and Emmanuelle Seigner, Polanski’s wife, as an actress, Vanda, auditioning for the lead role in the play as a woman who enters into an agreement with a man to dominate him as her slave.
The film is mostly Vanda and Thomas acting out the script, with reality constantly colliding with fiction. In order to distinguish between what’s the script and what’s not, the subtitles for the lines from the script are italicized and the real dialogue between them are not in italics. If you speak French, however, and don’t need the subtitles, it might be a little confusing.
After sitting through the film, the thought occurred that one of the main points of the film was to display Seigner’s voluptuous 48 year old body because her breasts constantly upstage both actors. So the costuming detracts somewhat from her fine performance as someone who is clearly not what she seemed when she walked into the theater late after everyone else had left.
The problem is that it’s all talk and the subject might be off-putting to those who consider that the idea that pain and humiliation are a normal part of love-making is simply perversion, which is probably the vast majority of normal people.