‘Steep’ could face a critical crowd at Lake Tahoe — Plake’s take: Movie hits the mark often but misses others
Strangely, what makes “Steep” especially effective is the notion that its target audience might not get it.
It amounts to basically a Warren Miller movie for people who’ve never ventured beyond the wide boulevards for beginners. A ski movie from Peter Jennings’ production company, “Steep” celebrates the mythology of the modern pioneers of big-mountain skiing and presents a compelling big picture on the big screen, even if not every little detail rings true.
“I’m very excited that it’s going to go out to the public, for sure,” said South Shore ski legend Glen Plake, who appears in the movie, which opened at the Heavenly Village Cinemas last weekend. “It’s going to expose people to this thing we love so much, and that’s one great thing about the film, for sure.
“They went around and kind of sought out different individuals who played a part in high-angle dangerous skiing, and my name popped up on the list, so they did a bunch of interviews with us and followed us around for a couple of weeks in Chamonix.”
Plake saw “Steep” a few weeks ago in Los Angeles. And while he praised some aspects — such as the movie’s documentation of European big-mountain ski pioneer Stefano De Benedetti — he seemed less impressed with others, characterizing “Steep” as a “metro” film crew’s take on the mountain environment.
Part of the problem might be scope: “Steep” runs only 92 minutes, which is enough for a glance at big-mountain skiing, especially with the top-notch cinematography of Jennings’ crew. However, the scope of “Steep” seems to exceed its grasp, conflating activities such as helicopter skiing with ski mountaineering.
“It’s a difficult thing to do : Where does heli-skiing fit into the sport of ski mountaineering? They don’t, and yet the public thinks it does,” Plake said by phone from the road, headed east on his DownHome Ski Tour of America’s small resorts.
Informed moviegoers in the mountains might pick up on that distinction, but it’s one that might not be obvious to the general moviegoing public.
It’s not necessary to look any farther than the first comment about “Steep” on the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) to understand that concern: Despite the scope of “Steep,” the author can’t seem to differentiate, say, Chris Davenport’s quest to ski all 54 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado within the same calendar year from hitting the steeps in bounds, and suggests that the skier’s reward comes in the form of a “hot whatever” waiting for the skier at the “lodge.”
All the cinematography — and it is top-notch in “Steep” — might not be sufficient to convey the difference in those two concepts to the moviegoing public. And it makes me wonder how surfers took “Riding Giants,” the 2004 documentary about the history of big-wave surfing. (Plake said he never saw “Riding Giants,” but “They kept saying that while they were filming (Steep).”
“Steep” has the look and feel of a breakthrough movie, a serious documentary about the mountain lifestyle. But those who know probably will prove to be a much tougher crowd than the film critics.