ADRENALIN / The powder junkies: In ski movies, the mountain is the hero. Owen Slot 'gets with' Warren Miller's hedonistic Black Diamond Rush

Owen Slot
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:28

Warren Miller had been skiing seven days a week, most of the year round, until last year when his wife made him cut down to six. Not because he's in his sixties but, he says, 'because the snow-filled driveway in Colorado was never getting shovelled out'. Between button lifts and black runs, Miller has made 450 films, and his wife didn't mind that - they financed her appetite for the white powder too.

The Millers are ski junkies and Black Diamond Rush, Miller's 44th feature- length ski film, aims to peddle a bit of their drug. It is shot in 25 different ski locations as far apart as Chile and Russia and there is no connecting storyline: the only link between each section of extreme skiing footage is the sight of sun- smacked faces smiling self-indulgently through zinc-cream dayglo-coloured grins, as if to say 'This is the life'.

The footage of black diamond (perfect black runs) descents doesn't set new standards in photography. It has its highs - a freestyle aerobatics show in Colorado; a comic collection of long- distance wipe-outs; and a heli-skiing sequence at Blue River, British Columbia accompanied by the sort of voice-over that comes clicking out of advertising copy-writers' keyboards: 'When you lift off from your chalet, your destination will be the middle of 10,000 square miles of untracked powder snow.'

With each hedonistic image piling one on the other, the film does work something like an advertisement, not simply for the joys of powder fields and mogul-munching, but for the whole way of life. The Millers' tale is about their friends who are canonised according to how many days a year they ski. Top of the pile comes the 100-year-old skier (named A J Snow) who we meet in Mont Tremblant, Quebec: 'He's almost totally deaf, he's completely blind in one eye and, most important, he's been skiing for 75 years.'

Miller's mates practise a life-is-not-a- rehearsal philosophy which Miller also preaches off-camera: 'The office is square, the walls are straight, the streets are straight and our bodies are round. I don't think they fit together,' he says. Though his message comes through loud and clear, films which ride on sport-generated adrenalin are nothing new. Surfing, for instance, has spawned a whole genre out of which The Big Wednesday established cult status and Point Break was a recent box-office hit.

Skiing, however, has tapped few of the possibilities presented by injecting dramatic storylines into dramatic footage. Most notably we've had Robert Redford as an Olympian in Downhill Racer and James Bond in numerous reruns of the piste shoot-out, but fiction rarely strays up the ski-lift.

According to Miller, this is because 'the mountain is the hero, not the skier. If you have innocuous, no-name people, then it's very easy for you to put your own self in that guy's skis when he's going down the hill.'

'So get with the programme,' concludes the voice-over to Black Diamond Rush, encouraging all to engage in Miller-style mountain-worship. 'Explore the outer reaches of your own mind and body. Look for those black diamonds. Once you find one, you'll get your rush.'

Screenings of 'Black Mountain Rush' are described as the 'first apres-ski party of the season'. There are stalls, and mulled wine will be served pre-film and in the interval. There are also competitions for free ski holidays for two, plus skis and ski-gear to be won at every venue

Screenings: London Prince Charles Cinema (071-494 4687) 8.30pm 5-11 Nov; Bristol Victoria Rms (0272 299008) 7pm, 9.15pm 10 Nov; Burgess Hill Robins Cinema (0444 248972) 7pm, 9.15pm 11 Nov; Edinburgh Dominion Cinema (031-447 4771) 7.30pm 14 Nov; St Albans Albans Centre (0727-844488) 7.30pm 15 Nov; Chatham Medway Arts Centre (0634 408965) 7pm, 9.15pm 18 Nov; Croydon Fairfield Hall (081-688 9291) 7.30pm 21 Nov; Leeds Hyde Park Picture House (0532 752045) 7pm, 9.15pm 25 Nov

The 'Independent' has two pairs of free tickets for each screening. To claim them, simply bring a copy of that day's paper to the relevant box-office

(Photograph omitted)

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