WHY does a man climb mountains? Why has he forced his tired and sweating body up here when he might instead have been sitting at his ease in a deckchair at the seaside, looking at girls in bikinis, or fast asleep, or sucking an ice-cream, according to his fancy. On the face of it the thing doesn’t make sense. Yet more and more people are turning to the hills; they find something in these wild places that can be found nowhere else. – Soliloquy, Alfred Wainwright, Scafell Pike 24, The Southern Fells.

Otley Walking Festival had arranged for a showing of the film “Mountain” as one of the evening events in their week-long programme and this had sold out well before the evening itself. The film, with script by Robert McFarlane and narrated by William Defoe, has an excellent accompaniment by the Australian Chamber Orchestra which superbly suited the mood of the sequences being shown in the film.

The narration is fairly minimal, only being used spasmodically throughout the film where the pictures did most of the talking. William Defoe started by talking about mountains and the fact that in the past they had been a thing of either holiness or regarded as fearsome, inhabited by either Gods or monsters, depending upon the stories being told at the time.

The one fault I found with the film was that at no point in the narration was there any reference to where the actual shots being seen were and it was up to the audience to try and guess where these could be. Was the rock climbing in Yosemite in the USA, or somewhere else? Were the spectacular snow scenes shot in the Alps, the Rockies or elsewhere? There was some indication at times of the location for example when we saw Buddhist monks, and could naturally assume from that the scenes were in the Himalaya. A list of locations was shown in the credits at the end of the film but it would have been useful during the film itself as well.

There were some black and white sequences from the late 19th and early 20th century showing the birth of mountaineering, then the introduction of cable cars to summits in the Alps and footage of the successful 1953 British expedition to Everest resulting in the first ascent of this highest peak on the planet. There were also references to the tragedies on expeditions with the loss of Mallory and Irving in the 1920s on their attempt to climb Everest from the Tibetan side of the mountain.

All aspects of mountaineering were covered from climbing to skiing, controlled avalanches to make mountaineering safer, skiing gymnastics, mountain biking, snowboarding and paragliding. It also portrayed climbing accidents on the mountains and the use of rescue helicopters in both the Alps and Himalaya.

The seventy-five-minute film concluded with looking at the force of nature in the form of volcanos and then finally some superb aerial shots of the Himalayan massif. The aerial photography by Anson Fogel was outstanding in this sequence, as it had been throughout the rest of the film.

A great evening, enjoyed by the capacity audience at Otley Courthouse.

by John Burland