MOUNTAIN: Peril, Passion & Poetry – A Vision of the Sublime

Mountain 6

Mountain 6Now showing in cinemas in Australia, the simply brilliant documentary MOUNTAIN from the BAFTA-nominated Director of Sherpa Jennifer Peedom, made in collaboration with the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), is an outstanding achievement both as a cinematic experience and as a musical odyssey.

It is an exploration film of the most fascinating kind, a truly transcendental experience as it explores the troubled and triumphant history of our timeless fascination with mountains. This includes old footage of Sir Edmund Hilary conquering Everest , and he becomes a supreme soloist in what is a magical fusion of music and imagery of the sublime kind.

Screening what must be the most sumptuous footage ever taken of the world’s mountain ranges and peaks, and man’s interaction with nature, MOUNTAIN is in so many ways also associated with poetic ideals.

Mountain 3It provides a homage to all “… those who are enthralled by mountains, their wonder is beyond all dispute. To those who are not, their allure is a kind of madness.”*

They perform a dance of death, hoping against hope that they will live to climb another day.

You cannot help but wonder how some of the images have been captured, such is the extremes the cinematographers have tested themselves as they provide the vast international scope of this film, which has been captured in Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, France, Iceland, India, Italy, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Scotland, South Africa, Switzerland, Tibet and the USA.

We zoom in on sheer cliff faces where a lone climber without ropes clings to just a small bulge in the rock with nothing to hold onto or to guide him as he negotiates a perilous journey in the pursuit of pleasure.

Mountain 14MOUNTAIN features a host of people on a quest to test themself to extremes, putting themselves into places where they suffer from the most acute amounts of pain to reach the pinnacle of a mountain they are seeking to either climb of conquer in a variety of ways.

Then there are those seeking to descend, in what can only be described as extreme ‘risky business’ as they fly and glide on the wind in wing suits, ride down mountains on bikes, jump off precipices on bikes with parachutes on their backs, or walk on a tightrope across a canyon between two mountain peaks in Castle Valley, Utah. And this is just the calmer of the choices before us.

It’s as if ‘man is seeking to establish his reputation of being capable of conquering the world, without having to be involved in a conquest or to go out and invade an Empire, except perhaps the empires of the mind.

Willem Defoe

Willem Defoe Actor, narrator for Mountain (2017)

Its sweet sounds reminded me the word music ultimately derived from the Egyptian moys ‘water,’ a notion that perpetuated the archetypal association between the two – especially when it turns to ice and hangs off mountains in great stalactites, which alarmingly some men seek to climb before they crash to the mountain floor below. Their death wish is strong.

A huge plus is the wondrous words written by best-selling author Robert Macfarlane, spine tinglingly narrated with patience, grace and pathos by Willem Dafoe.

Pathos is a good word, describing our interior universe while also implying something so much more than emotion, which is what Dafoe delivers so succinctly: that inner universe we are attracted to by the very nature of our complexities and contradictions.

Mountain 1MOUNTAIN showcases the natural elevation of the earth’s surface by rising more or less abruptly to a summit where beauty and nature can come together in a symphony of sound at the very essence of both love and fear.  A wonderful rich resonating voice like his is so seductive.

Three centuries ago climbing a MOUNTAIN was considered close to sheer lunacy and this feature documentary will hold you spellbound as it goes with a camera to places where no creative has gone before.

Caspar-David-Friedrich-Wanderer-Above-the-Sea-of-FogOne of the most powerful images in all art we have was painted at the beginning of what has been called the beginning of an Age of Passion.

The Wanderer over the Sea of Fog, painted by Caspar David Friedrich (1724-1840) c1818, reveals a young man with a stick to aid his walking and ascent of a pinnacle of rocks he is standing upon, with his back to us.

What is he thinking as he gazes out wistfully over a misty covered group of peaks in the foreground with a large mountain looming large in the background.

The work highlights a period when the importance of the individual and his place in nature became a subject for conversation and consideration.

Humanist ideals from the Italian Renaissance forward had been reinforced by the time of the French Revolution when the French proved men and women acting upon a passionate pursuit would be able to change the status quo and indeed, by extension much of the known world.

Mountain 5A Paradise on Earth is a place humans have been seeking for thousands of years, but the closer we come to believing we have found it, is also at the point when the ideal seemingly begins to slip away.

Arcadia, an idyll in the remote pastoral area of Greece was sited in highlands at the centre of the Peloponnese mountain range. A cultural and spiritual refuge, just the very thought of it became deeply embedded in Greek legend and it is there that the most ancient dialect of the Greek language survived.

Mountain 9During the eighteenth century thickly wooded wildernesses and mountains added to the romance and mystery of a place giving visitors the notion of being transported to the depths of some romantic Arcadian landscape.

It was on the summit of Mt Parnassus the harmony brought about by the association of landscape and music found its most enduring expression in the sounds of rushing mountain streams interplaying with the strings of the Greek God Apollo’s lyre.

Jennifer Peedom said, “Each of us brought our own ideas to MOUNTAIN and it really was like a master class in collaboration. Each us raised the bar, inspiring the others to do the same. The result is a testament to that alchemy. It has been one of the most challenging, but enriching projects of my career”.

Mountain 13 Jennifer PeedomSynesthesia, the phenomenon in which the stimulation of one sense leads to another becoming more acutely attuned is a good way of describing what will happen to you as you enjoy what happens when they put the visuals with the music for MOUNTAIN

Artistic director and leader of the ACO violinist Richard Tognetti the mastermind behind the brilliance of the music that provides the perfect backdrop to our viewing of this story, has indeed reached all new heights of excellence and breathtaking beauty.

Richard Tognetti JC Williamson Helpmann Award Winner Photo Chris Pavlich.

Richard Tognetti JC Williamson Helpmann Award Winner Photo Chris Pavlich.

Under his guidance the orchestra superbly plays wonderful works, including those composed by Tognetti that act as a unique bridge between works of some of the great composers.

Richard Tognetti completely reinvigorates works by Ludwig van Beethoven, particularly the exquisite ‘larghetto’ movement from his Violin Concerto, which he plays as a solo on his 1743 Guarneri del Gesu violin – certainly music to die for. We also soar high above the peaks to experience thrills accompanied by music from the fiery Italian Antonio Vivaldi.

Richard Tognetti, nominee Best individual Classical Performance

Richard Tognetti, nominee Best individual Classical Performance

Handsome solos by Tamara-Anna Cislowska on piano and Violinists Helena Rathbone, Ike See and Satu Vanska with outstanding cellist Timo-Veikko Valve, are all played with both passion and pleasure.

For me Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite, highlighting unexpected and exciting visual sequences conveyed every emotion and affected all my senses, as this suite of movements based on eighteenth century dance forms celebrated reaching a true pinnacle of the sublime!

MOUNTAIN is about all our dreams; a heavenly vision of Arcadia personified.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017


Richard Tognetti Musical Director & Composer
Jennifer Peedom Director & Producer
Jo-anne McGowan Producer
Tamara-Anna Cislowska Piano
Renan Ozturk Principal Cinematographer
Robert Macfarlane Writer
Willem Dafoe Narrator
Nigel Jamieson Staging Director
Lighting Design Damien Cooper

BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto: II – Larghetto
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No.5: II – Adagio un poco mosso
CHOPIN Nocturne in D-flat major, Op.27, No.2
GRIEG Holberg Suite: I – Präludium
SCULTHORPE String Sonata No.1: IV – Chorale
RICHARD TOGNETTI Original Composition
VIVALDI Concerto in B Minor, RV580
VIVALDI Winter from The Four Seasons: I. Allegro non molto
VIVALDI Summer from The Four Seasons: III. Presto

Produced by Stranger Than Fiction Films, in association with Camp 4 Collective, Sherpas Cinema and the ACO

*Quote Jennier Peedom

All images from Mountain used with permission courtesy Madman Entertainment

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