Indoor Adventure A history of falling offers high-concept reading; IMAX sizes up risk takers on the big screen; and a surfing-film director follows in his father's cinematic curl

July 07, 2003
July 07, 2003

Table of Contents
July 7, 2003

Inside Tennis

Indoor Adventure A history of falling offers high-concept reading; IMAX sizes up risk takers on the big screen; and a surfing-film director follows in his father's cinematic curl

Falling: How Our Greatest Fear Became Our Greatest Thrill--A
by Garret Soden
W.W. Norton, 309 pages, $24

This is an article from the July 7, 2003 issue

You want falling? In this book people fall from tall trees, high
wires, enormous cliffs and swinging trapezes. They jump out of
airplanes, off bridges, into rivers and down mountainsides. And a
lot of them seem to have a great time doing it.

Soden has assembled some delightful characters, including Sam
Patch, who in the 1800s drew paying crowds by plunging into water
from increasingly higher precipices. You get to know the Great
Blondin (a genius wire walker) and the Great Farini (who invented
the human cannonball). Soden's history leads to current legends
such as BMX hero Mat Hoffman, who long before he rode his bike
off a cliff to do midair stunts, opened an umbrella and jumped
off the roof of his house. "I was like, six," Hoffman says.

There are some gruesome deaths in this book, and although
hurtling earthward thrills some people, it terrifies others.
Soden probes the "high-sensation seekers"--identifiable
personality types who in addition to tossing themselves off
cliffs also like to get stoned, eat crunchy foods and have a lot
of sex. If that's not enough to lure you into the airborne crowd,
Soden describes the way falling can put you into an "enhanced
state of consciousness" that would make Aldous Huxley envious.

In addition to the gravity players themselves, Soden relies on
historians, neurologists and behaviorists. The insight that
resonates most for the earthbound among us is presented just
after we learn about Annie Taylor, the 63-year-old woman who was
the first to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. "Many who were
willing to fling themselves into the void weren't necessarily
brave," Soden writes, "but were more likely mentally
unbalanced." --Kostya Kennedy

Adrenaline Rush
Directed by Marc Fafard Running time: 40 min.

This adventure documentary, which is making the rounds in 17
smaller-market IMAX theaters, is filled with the sort of
vertiginous footage you would expect--of skydivers, BASE jumpers
and the like. The movie is more distinctive for its attempts to
make its thrills a constructive experience for the cowards in the
audience. It cuts between shots of a six-year-old boy terrified
of his first day of school and an adult jumping off a 1,450-foot
cliff and suggests the former should learn from the latter.

The film claims that extreme athletes share a bond of
fearlessness with the people who shape our society. Specifically,
it says that these athletes have less of a certain inhibiting
chemical in their brains than ordinary people and that the same
is true of inventors, entrepreneurs and stage performers.

Drug abusers and criminals are also short of this chemical, the
movie notes without further comment. The flick glosses over this
perhaps because it would get in the way of the message: "Most of
us will never jump off a cliff ... but the truth is the risks we
take in everyday life are the ones most meaningful to human
progress." Which is all true enough for the scared six-year-old,
and maybe even the office drone who dreams of starting his own
pizza stand. Just hope that if you see the film, you're not
sharing the theater with some guy who's always wanted to try
carjacking while hepped-up on goofballs, and will now be inspired
to follow his dream. --Bill Syken

Step Into Liquid
Directed by Dana Brown Opens Aug. 2003 Running time: 87 min.

It is the destiny of all surfing documentaries to be compared
with Bruce Brown's brilliant 1966 film, Endless Summer. That fate
is especially unavoidable in the case of Step Into Liquid, as it
was directed by Dana Brown, Bruce's son. And in a way that's a
shame. Because while Step Into Liquid is a good movie, the ghost
of Endless Summer reminds you what the film is missing.

Dana Brown, through his photography and his choice of subjects,
captures the beauty and the allure of surfing. We meet a
California man who hasn't missed a day in the waves in 27 years.
We see the locals in Sheboygan, Wis., who get stoked off the
ripples in Lake Michigan. Later it's top women pros in Tahiti.
Laird Hamilton rides in Hawaii on a two-tiered board that appears
to fly above the water. Brown even catches up with one of the
stars of Endless Summer, Robert August in Costa Rica.

It is when you see August, 58, that you realize the film's
failing: It lacks a likable protagonist. How much better would
Step Into Liquid have been with personable guides like August and
his old riding buddy, Mike Hynson, leading us through these
waters? As it is, Brown's characters start to feel
tiring--endless, if you will. In a film, unlike in a wave, you do
not want to find a hollow center. --B.S.