Here’s the outline: there’s this Canadian kid, a natural underdog, right? He’s handsome but slight, wiry And naïve— could be any one of those kids hanging around the ice-cream parlor in Banff. Then there’s this hulking Swiss, huge shoulders, ruddy face, real peasant puss, looks like he could heft the Matterhorn. Now these two lock up in sudden death, in skiing, this little Canuck trying to beat the monster Swiss at his own game. What a natural! What an idea! But that’s it, an idea, an outline. That’s about all there is to this 80-minute film. The problem seems to be that the idea came too late, with no chance to catch up with events. Real life can’t be re-shot.
Producer-director William Johnston and his crew went to Europe last winter to chronicle the Canadian National Ski Team’s 1979-80 season on the World Cup circuit. It looked like a promising year for the Canadians and a bankable undertaking, with the Lake Placid Olympics upcoming. The effort paid off in a pre-Olym-
pic television special. But then Ken Read began charging at the World Cup downhill title. He won a couple of races in Europe and returned to Canada, capable of winning the cup in the last event at Lake Louise. Johnston’s Toronto production company went ahead with the bigger picture. A North American had never done it before, beat the Europeans for the cup — but it didn’t happen this time either.
Read’s failure was not for lack of preparation. At least he came close. The movie doesn’t; apparently never could. If it had followed Read and Swiss defender of the cup, Mueller, from the start, developed a sense of competition through words and actions, sought insight into their upbringings and ambitions, incentives and goals, this might have been a documentary worth doing. What’s presented is a series of headlines and place-names; a chronology of races and race results; a tour of alpine villages and the mountains that surround them. On those mountains is Ken Read in a seemingly endless medley of twists and turns, slow-motion and hurtling downhill effects set to music, with a husky-voiced narrator reading clichés in search of a narrative. There was a story there, it just wasn’t gotten. It was a heck of an idea. But ideas are only the first step on the path to good work, not the last.
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