Mountain, is a documentary directed by Jennifer Peedom that uses high-altitude photography to bring to life the salient themes of Robert Macfarlane’s Mountains of the Mind (Granta Books, 2008), which I had just finished reading (thank you, Chester!). The images are selected to fit a magnificent soundtrack, including Vivaldi, Beethoven and many others, played by the Australian Chamber Orchestra directed by Richard Tognetti. Macfarlane’s book traces the origins of our (quite recent) obsession with mountains and the attractions they offer to those willing to risk oblivion for an encounter with the sublime. Mountains represent Deep Time (‘They watched us arrive and will watch us leave’) and the film is fully seized of their alien power, their imperturbable such-ness.
Alongside its images of awe-inspiring splendour, Mountain offers a series of breath-taking and potentially bone-crushing descents (on skis, bicycles, parachutes, hang gliders, bungee cords…) that are shot from helmet-cams and other close-up technologies in a way that will have you gripping the arms of your no-longer-comfortable seat. The frenzy of risk-taking is accompanied by spectacular crashes and near misses as mountains become a stage for human recklessness and (it must be said) unashamed narcissism and a kind of dogged ignorance: the slopes of Everest are shown crowded with people and gear, so that this is no longer mountaineering, but ‘queuing’.
Macfarlane’s sparse and poetic commentary is read by William Dafoe to create a perfect consort, dancing together, of music, imagery, voice and text.