Sun­shine Su­per­man

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Sun­shine Su­per­man, doc­u­men­tary, Vi­o­let Crown, 2.5 chiles

These peo­ple are crazy.

That would be the re­ac­tion of most of us, cer­tainly, watch­ing them jump from sky­scrapers, dive off cliffs, plum­met in free-fall as their shad­ows race along the nearby wall at heart-stop­ping speeds, and then jerk as their chutes open and they dan­gle like pup­pets on a string, then float un­harmed to the earth. The sport is called BASE jump­ing. It’s an acro­nym for the points of de­par­ture its ad­her­ents em­ploy — build­ings, an­tenna tow­ers, spans (bridges), and earth (cliffs).

The ring­leader of this cul­ture of merry dare­dev­ils was an in­fec­tiously ex­u­ber­ant man-child named Carl Boen­ish, who started out as an engi­neer but found that the thrill of leap­ing off tall build­ings in a sin­gle bound made him feel like Su­per­man, and that en­gi­neer­ing of­fered noth­ing to match it.

Hap­pily for di­rec­tor Marah Strauch, the only other thing that com­peted in Boen­ish’s world was film­ing. He and his fel­low jump­ing en­thu­si­asts took to the skies with cam­eras mounted on their hel­mets, and amassed a trove of first-per­son footage of the free-fall ex­pe­ri­ence. Strauch sifted through what must have been hun­dreds of hours of this stuff, and aug­mented it with news clips (a young Pat Sa­jak chats with Boen­ish for a lo­cal news show), in­ter­views with his as­so­ci­ates, and dra­matic stag­ings of some of the in­ci­dents in his life. These last are the least ef­fec­tive tech­nique Strauch uses. They in­ject an aura of in­au­then­tic­ity, as the cam­era fo­cuses on hands, legs, and backs of ac­tors recre­at­ing the peo­ple and scenes de­scribed.

Much more in­volv­ing are ex­ten­sive in­ter­views with Boen­ish’s widow and fel­low jumper, Jean, who met him when she was a sopho­more in col­lege and was quickly won over to the thrills of the sport. Whether or not you re­mem­ber any­thing about Boen­ish and his un­timely death in 1984, the past tense ref­er­ences to him through­out leave no doubt as to where we’re headed.

What Boen­ish and his com­padres do is in­tensely thrilling, but the rep­e­ti­tion of the ac­tion — up and down, up and down — even­tu­ally dulls the ef­fect and it gets a lit­tle bor­ing.

“Noth­ing hap­pens by chance,” Boen­ish re­minds us more than once. “Ev­ery­thing that hap­pens is ac­cord­ing to the laws of the uni­verse.” The for­mer engi­neer made a science of his sport and was scrupu­lous about equip­ment checks and risk-re­ward assess­ments. But the courtship of dan­ger and death is al­ways part of the equa­tion.

Last month, another leg­endary climber-jumper, Dean Pot­ter, met his end at the foot of a Yosemite cliff. A few years ear­lier Pot­ter had told ESPN, “I’m ad­dicted to the height­ened aware­ness I get when there’s a death con­se­quence.”

They may not ex­pect to die, but the pres­ence of death close at hand is al­ways part of the mix. — Jonathan Richards

BASEic in­stinct

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