Greg Stump came to Mammoth a few weeks ago to show his new film. I didn’t really know what to expect—it seemed like it’s been years since the first announcements about the project, and I’d heard no shortage of conflicting rumors about Stump himself. So I grabbed a ski bro and we went to the show.
The 90-minute movie is unbelievably rich and textured and there are moments of dizzying cinematographic complexity, where it operates on several levels simultaneously—levels that collide and overlap. Old ski footage from his classic films exists, remixed into a new narrative or revealed in a new context. Stump shoots for the moon, attempting to (and largely succeeding) write autobiography, paying tribute to the greats of ski filmmaking, and putting his work into the context of ski history and the changes it triggered in skiing and mainstream American culture. Oh, and set the record straight about a thing or two.
And there is no doubt that Stump is one of the best film editors, in any genre, ever. You could teach a master’s level course on his work here. Every technique and gesture of cinematic language is used to tell this story. Some are in your face: the pumping soundtrack, the quick cuts. But layers of subtle texture come and go so fast you can’t process it all. One thing that really stuck in my mind was the sparkling snowflakes that drift across the screen throughout a long montage of different shots, these diamonds hanging in the air and moving through the story on a gentle wind.
It’s a bold move to deconstruct the stories that inspired so many people, but seeing the real (and realistically flawed) people behind the heroes and the hero narrative is far more interesting. I’m so used to seeing people so carefully packaged and presented in the media that it’s just a joy to see how cranky Warren Miller is, or that Plake and Schmidt had egos and didn’t get along.
At one point in the film, Chris Davenport really articulates the impact of Stump’s films, explaining that as soon as he saw Blizzard he knew that’s what he wanted to do. So did everyone else of our generation. Because Stump made us think that this world he was making up as he went along was real, that you could be a pro skier, or ski filmmaker, that you could go to all these places, that skiing was as big and weird as you made it.
Scot Schmidt, sitting in plush chair at the Yellowstone Club, where he is the house pro, tells Stump that he wouldn’t be sitting there if it wasn’t for his films. And he’s right. I’m one of those people too. Skied bumps at Mary Jane and idolized Robert Aquirre, one of Stumps athletes from his early films. Had a Blizzard poster on my wall all through high school and college. And when I moved to Mammoth and found myself skiing with Plake and writing for POWDER, I had walked through the funhouse mirror of Greg Stump’s vision and I was never, ever going back to the real world.
Some people won’t like it. The last 15 minutes drags, unless you enjoy endless montages of slow-mo 720s off park booters. Stump tries to tie his work into contemporary ski films, by using other peoples footage to show what Blizzard spawned. Unfortunately, they are the most boring shots in the film, unless you really like slow motion 720s off park booters from five years ago. I wish that Stump was more in the loop of ski films—recent work from Sweetgrass Productions and Sherpas Cinema is much more in the vein of Stump’s cinematographic vision than money-shot ski porn.
My only other critique isn’t really a critique at all, or at least not of the film. Stump gives us his story right up to Blizzard, and then points to everything that sprang up in it’s wake. But he glosses over the post-Blizzard films, and it’s a loss. License To Thrill, Dr. Strangeglove, Groove, P-tex, Lies, and Ductape, Siberia, and Fistful of Moguls didn’t have the effect of Blizzard, but I would love to get the same behind-the-scenes perspective on those experiences as well.
Small price to pay for 75 minutes of greatness and happy weirdness. The opening footage of Stump and his brother Geoff crushing the freestyle circuit in the late ’70s put things in perspective—Stump is sitting on another 20 years worth of archival footage. I hope we see more of it, and I hope Stump, who has relocated to the Wydaho region, gets back in the ski mix. We’ve got a lot of talented ski filmmakers out there, but I’d love to see what he could do with modern technology.