Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Right as Rain

A while back I was flat on my back flipping through the channels on the teevee. I came upon an absolutely enchanting documentary on the Travel Network or Discovery or some shit. One of them, you know. It was filmed on that rich and glorious celluloid, the type they'd always use in the sixties and seventies I guess. Technicolor. I'm not too retro, nor am I sentimental much, but they really should bring that shit back. The reds are enraging, the blues like some kinda narcotic. And the sunlight, never mind the sunlight.

The title was "The Man Who Skied Down Mount Everest." It's about this Japanese guy who climbs Mount Everest, and I only knew it 'cause of the title at first, but I guess he was gonna ski back down. Lots of shots of the entire expedition trudging through Nepalese villages, sherpas with their burdens, prayer flags flitting in the wind outside misshapen stone monasteries, meals eaten around the Coleman stove. You know the drill. And the guy, he's the focus of the whole thing, everyone gives him a little extra elbow room. Little mountain urchins run up to him in wonder. The narration is from his diaries of the whole experience and its syntax is mesmerizing. He's got a sort of modesty in the shadow of the mountain's majesty, and of the audacity of what he's proposed to do. But there's always a sense of the tragic, futile beauty of his whole endeavor, sometimes crossing into narcissism, sometimes into nearly despairing self-doubt. Lots of deep scrutiny into the enterprise.

Eight people die at one point.

I was astounded and enraptured. And there was something about the whole experience of watching and listening that was really turning me on, pushing some button in me that was queerly familiar, pleasurable and terrifying all at once. The narration was in this absurd, stentorian accent, British but not really, the sort of voice that might emanate from some rich, perverted recluse, some fallen noble who's never left his Xanadu. At some point I realized, of course, that this was not the actual voice of the Japanese guy - though it did seem strangely appropriate to his exploit and persona. Then, in a second, I realized. It was Hal from "2001: A Space Odyssey." I looked it up on IMDB and in fact it was the voice of the very same person, Douglas Rain.

He does ski down but I won't tell you exactly how it ends, except to say it's beautiful.