Doc talk | peter keough

Revisiting a 1975 movie that experienced highs and lows

Champion skier Yuichiro Miura in 1975’s “The Man Who Skied Down Everest.”
Champion skier Yuichiro Miura in 1975’s “The Man Who Skied Down Everest.”Crawley Films

There was a time when a film could win the best documentary Academy Award and be forgotten. Or is it still that time? One can only hope that this year’s Oscar winner will have a better fate than “The Man Who Skied Down Everest,” which won the award in 1976 and slipped into obscurity just like the astounding, unnecessary feat that it records.

Japanese world champion skier Yuichiro Miura, said to have been inspired by some perhaps half-joking remarks by Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to scale the title peak, decided that, yes, it might be a good idea to try to ski down the tallest mountain in the world. So he gathered a crew of hundreds, mustered 37 tons of equipment and a small army of Sherpas to carry it all, and in 1970 started the ascent to his launching site, 27,000 feet above sea level. Six Sherpas died in a cave-in. But the team soldiered on, determined to give Miura his chance to accomplish this never before achieved, four-minute feat.


The film is spectacularly beautiful. Was it worth it? It’s reminiscent of Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” (1982), for which he enlisted a workforce of local Peruvian indigenous people for the Sisyphean task of dragging a steamboat over a hill. It is also somewhat like Herzog’s “The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner” (1974), about a Swiss whittler whose ecstasy is ski jumping. Maybe with its recent restoration and re-release, “The Man Who Skied Down Everest” will attain some of the fame and stature of those films.

“The Man Who Skied Down Everest” is available on DVD ($14.99) and Blu-ray ($19.99) by The Film Detective.

For more information go to www.TheFilmDetective.com.

Bird’s eye view

Here is another chance to watch one of the most important documentaries of 2016. Sonia Kennebeck’s “National Bird” enters the secret world of Air Force drone operators and analysts, telling the stories of three who rebelled against protocols that too often led to the killing of innocent civilians. Harrowing and illuminating, it examines the horror on the ground and the guilt and outrage of those at the controls.


“National Bird” screens as part of the Film Series @ UMass Boston on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Ballroom on the third floor of the Campus Center. A discussion with the director follows the free screening.

For more information go to https://filmseries.umb.edu/film/national-bird.

Hopeful ‘Sign’

Here we are in troubled days and we do not have our Prince to guide us. But we do have “Sign o’ the Times” (1987), a surge of purple energy from 30 years ago. A Prince concert movie, it stars and is directed by Prince and showcases hits from his then new, now classic eponymous double album. They are performed with orgiastic zest, rigorous precision, and a polymorphous sexuality embodied by the star’s zany but apt wardrobe. Intercut with sometimes digressive narrative doo-dads, it remains one of the best rock concerts you will ever experience, including renditions of “Forever in My Life,’’ “U Got the Look,’’ and the hauntingly spiritual “The Cross,” as well as scene-stealing turns from Sheena Easton and Sheila E.

“Sign o’ the Times” screens through Dec. 11 at the Brattle Theatre.

For more information go to www.brattlefilm.org/2016/12/11/sign-o-the-times-3.

‘Trans’ America

Transgender people have made great strides over the past few years, but a change in the political and social climate could easily endanger this progress.


Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s “The Trans List” offers a look into the lives of 11 transgender individuals, ranging from such celebrities as Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox to lesser known names such as Buck Angel, an adult film star who considered suicide until he received counseling and treatment from an understanding therapist and physician. There’s also Nicole Maines, who started her transition in fifth grade, became an activist, and was the plaintiff in a lawsuit that determined that her school could not deny her access to the girls’ bathroom. All have struggled hard to achieve what rights they have, and perhaps seeing them as individuals might change the minds of those who would undo that progress.

“The Trans List” can be seen on HBO beginning Sunday at 12:45 p.m. and airing various dates and times through Dec. 24.

For more information go to www.hbo.com/documentaries/the-trans-list.

Terror alert

As the president-elect ponders his strategy against terrorism, it might serve him well to take a look at Miles O’Brien’s “Nova: 15 Years of Terror.” The threat in this war against an amorphous, ever-adapting enemy has evolved from spectacular atrocities like 9/11 to smaller outrages committed by random cells of fanatics connected to their leadership not by any direct communications but by isolated self-radicalized individuals and cells inspired by sophisticated online propaganda and the social media.

Seemingly sourceless and unpredictable, such terrorism is hard to combat. However cyber-scientists and other experts are devising methods not only to stymie such operations but to defeat those fomenting them by turning their tactics against them.


“Nova: 15 Years of Terror” is available on DVD from PBS Distribution for $29.95.

For more information go to www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/military/15-years-terror.html.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.