Hollywood Hills

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INTERIOR. GREAT ROOM OF THE ASPEN BASE LODGE. AFTERNOON.

There are skiers sitting around in ski boots, drinking tequila. They're wearing brightly colored sweaters with matching headbands. The Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" is on the P.A.

Over by the huge stone fireplace there is a cluster of beautiful women in stretch pants.

The camera dollies toward them. Moving quickly, the camera circles the the women. As it gets close, all the women arch their backs at the same time and pull away, revealing an Austrian ski stud-Fritz Reichenbach-seated at the center of the attention.

There are crutches by Fritz's side. He has a cast on his leg.

BEAUTIFUL WOMAN 1
Tell us again Fritz, how did it happen?

FRITZ (indicating his cast)
Zis? Zis is nussing. I was schussing. Schussing and a little eine kleine gelindesprung, ja?

BEAUTIFUL WOMAN 2
Ooooh, isn't he dreamy?

FRITZ
Of course, I haff faced death sounzands and sounzands of times. I am alvays on a ski lift to death...It is my life.

BEAUTIFUL WOMAN 1
Oh, Fritz!

Agonized? You're not alone. For many skiers, the sport's worst occupational hazard is watching a motion picture with skiing in it-actors talk about "taking a couple of schusses," trails get names like "Death Wish," and the most dangerous stunt work happens in a hot tub. Skiing, it seems, has lost its way on celluloid. But it wasn't always so.

In the beginning there was the railroad mogul W. Averell Harriman. And while Harriman's official title in 1935 was president of the Union Pacific Railroad, his unofficial title ought to have been Father of The American Ski Movie.

It all started with a marketing dilemma. When Union Pacific needed a Western destination for its tracks out of Chicago, it built one-a ski area-at the then astronomical cost of $1.5 million. Eager to develop a buzz for the place, Harriman hit on an invigorating idea: Invite movie stars to the opening. And give the town a fantasy name, like Oz or Xanadu or...Sun Valley. The gossip writers, Harriman guessed, would cover the event and put the resort on the map.

It worked. The stars shone. The press swarmed. The December 1936 party at the nation's first destination ski resort was attended by the likes of Clark Gable and Errol Flynn. LIFE Magazine sent renowned photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt to shoot it and then put it on the cover of the magazine. It was Planet Hollywood, 50 years early.

But Harriman's big party had an unintended consequence: Skiing, once considered basic transportation and cheap fun for European refugees, became, almost overnight, an exotic glamour sport for the rich and famous. One glimpse of Claudette Colbert hanging out in stretch pants with a bare-chested male model in a now-famous Sun Valley publicity shot was all it took: Skiing was appropriated by a Depression-era film industry that was desperate for fantasy-filled story lines.

"It was the real beginning of the sport in America," says ski cinematographer Bruce Benedict. "When Harriman connected skiing with glitz, it captured everybody's imagination. Especially Hollywood's."

As if on cue, Hollywood's first big ski film hit the silver screen in 1941. It starred a pudgy but youthful Milton Berle (pre-Uncle Miltie), a newly minted, figure skating gold medalist named Sonja Henie, and the biggest name in the music business, Glenn Miller. It dripped fantasy. It had huge set pieces. It featured a sequined Henie skating five-minute routines on black ice to Miller-orchestrated hits. And most of all, it had long, beautiful ski sequences. They called it "Sun Valley Serenade." The movie was little more than a star vehicle for Henie, but it established skiing as an aesthetic-a valhalla for the athletic, healthy and romantic. "If you're not going skiing," John Payne, the movie's handsome leading man asks the band's featured girl singer when she appears at his door in elegant ski garb, "why are you dressed in those clothe" "Honey," she responds with a cigarette in her mouth, "I'm a better shopper than I am a skier."

You can almost hear the 1941 audience, many of whom were still out of work, booing heartily. Those boos turn quickly to cheers when the penniless but perky refugee, Sonja Henie, shows up and chases Payne down the hill on skis. The 6-minute sequence of the future lovers in a prolonged skiing flirtation is some of the most beautiful winter footage ever shot.

"Sun Valley Serenade" was a promising beginning. But with skiing poised to become a Hollywood metaphor for beauty and elegance, things began to go downhill, slowly at first, and then at breakneck speed. What happened?

"Cheap airfares," explains Roger Ebert, the film critic for the Chicago Sun Times. "Until the Sixties, skiing was the pastime of the rich, in difficult-to-reach places. Now that everybody can go on commercial flights, the mystique is gone."

As the nation's economic picture brightened, Ebert says, skiing's gauzy fantasy image faded to black. Some films actually hurried the transformation. In 1945, for example, Alfred Hitchcock cast Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman in a psychological thriller called "Spellbound." The plot hinges on skiing and uses skiing's black-and-white extremes to maximum effect, earning Salvador Dali an Oscar for the surreal sets and scenery. But the skiing-which has driven Peck insane (and Bergman, the Freudian analyst, into his arms)-is a horror, not a triumph.

Typically (and enjoyably), Hitchcock focuses on the sport's darker aspects-the cold, the alien clime, the remoteness. To be sure, there is a core truth in the stereotype; the bear trap bindings Bergman and Peck used were unforgiving. And the clothing of the time wasn't exactly warm.

But Hitchcock does something new-he takes discomfort to the extreme, introducing sudden death into the ski-film lexicon. According to Ebert, Hitchcock (and nearly all filmmakers since then) really had no choice. "The only way to differentiate success and failure when you're shooting skiing," Ebert says, "is to show failure. The winner of a ski race has a faster time, but the shot looks the same as the shot of the ninth-place finisher." So the only possible "action shot" in skiing, Ebert says, is the one where the skier fails. Or dies.

The die was cast. Between 1945 and 1969, culminating in the moody angst-sodden "Downhill Racer," starring Robert Redford and Gene Hackman, skiing's image descended from sophisticated elegance to broad humor to violent sudden death.

In fact, the distilled essence of modern movie skiing can be found in one frame of one film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," in 1969. The hair-raising footage, shot by Willy Bogner, reaches a climax when Bond, a "genealogist," leaps from the trailside bushes, knocks a soldier out of the air with one of his skis and then dispatches him by pressing the steel edge into his neck. Panache, maybe, but not glamour.

Since then, the skiing life has been lived almost exclusively at the extremes. Skiers have been portrayed either as squirrel-brained studs or unrepentant jerks in groaners such as "Snowball Express," "Hot Dog" and "Aspen Extreme."

But there may be hope. The recent boom in freeskiing has returned the sliding sports to prominence because it has captured the imagination of a younger generation fascinated with extremes and, in many cases, more comfortable with them. And now that the same generation is starting to direct, skiing and snowboarding are getting more respect. Witness Volvo's recent television ad for its new all-wheel-drive wagon, which cuts seamlessly between a sleek silver car cutting arcs on a snowy road and a softly turning powder skier on a silver pair of Volants. Or even more notably, Absolut's vodka ad-in which John Irving describes an après-ski interlude with a German girl at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen-and maybe, soon, at a theater near you.

Masters of the chase film like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan have even begun to sneak skiing and snowboarding into their respective films, to the sports' advantage. Skiing, for lack of a better word, is sexy again. And exotic. And alluring. In short, what it used to be.

So is skiing poised to make a comeback in Hollywood?

CUT TO:
FRITZ
Perhaps I could tell you. But zen I vould haff to kill you.

THE BEST

SUN VALLEY SERENADE 1941; starring Sonja Henie, John Payne, Milton Berle and the Glenn Miller Orchestra

When "Sun Valley Serenade" was released in 1941, audiences expected glitz on snow. And the movie delivers. It was intended as little more than a star vehicle for the newly minted figure skating gold medalist Sonja Henie (who plays a cute Norwegian war refugee), but the attention to skiing detail and skiing etiquette makes the dynamic between the co-stars truly fun. In fact, the skiing makes sense-an active, beautiful woman tests her mate's mettle by chasing him (and being chased) all over the hill. With Glenn Miller's cool riffs in the background, the backlit, afternoon images of Henie and Payne gliding over open snowfields on Baldy are nearly hallucinatory. Granted, the Henie/Miller musical numbers can go on a little long, and some of the Milton Berle jokes are hilariously dated.

But the idea that Henie wants to marry Payne when she finds out he can't imagine winter without skiing is entirely pleasant. And when someone asks "Do you know 'It happened in Sun Valley?'" Glenn Miller's big-band answer is, of course, "Yes."
-P.H.

H.E.L.P! 1965; starring The Beatles One look at "H.E.L.P!," and you'll agree: MTV probably owes it all to director Richard Lester. Simply put, H.E.L.P! was way ahead of its time. It's silly and innocent in a pre-Vietnam War kind of way, but the film has an unbelievably strong soundtrack. Tunes such as HELP, Ticket to Ride, The Night Before, A Hard Day's Night (played on the sitar), and many other rock 'n roll classics are here, most of them set to zany ski footage.

Wait a minute. Skiing? Yes, and lots of it. First, there's the wacky montage of the boys in the Alps doing tricks on their Kneissls, and then there are the Avedonesque, posed landscape portraits of the guys in the snow. The film is not much more than a string of excuses for the Fab Four to stop and sing, but seeing George, Ringo, Paul and John doing 360s, carving arcs on White Stars and cracking wiseacre ski quips is endlessly entertaining.

Care about the plot? You shouldn't. Suffice it to say that skiing figures heavily in the film's biggest chase scene. And surprise, the boys actually know how to turn 'em. Where they learned-Liverpool is notoriously lacking in snow-is anybody's guess.
-P.H.

ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE 1969; starring George Lazenby, Telly Savalas and Diana Rigg

Alright, let's get right to the point: Watching George Lazenby take over for Sean Connery as Bond was not unlike watching Deborah Norville replace Jane Pauley. Sometimes, it has to be said, enthusiasm isn't enough.

In spite of that, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" may be the best in the Bond series. The film gets off to a heart-pounding start when Bond escapes from Telly Savalas down a ski slope. On one ski. While returning automatic weapons fire. And returning one attacker to his maker via enterprising use of a ski edge. Bond's narrow escape enrages the bad guy (Savalas, shaved clean and adorned with an annoying lap cat named Fluffy), who then continues to hound Bond from his exotic ski house.

It's campy, fun and truly exciting. And when Bond is forced to hop into a bobsled track to escape Savalas' henchmen (shot with a handheld 35 mm camera by the incomparable Willy Bogner), well, there are few more exciting chase scenes in film.
-P.H.

DOWNHILL RACER 1969; starring Robert Redford and Gene HackmanDownhill Racer" has stood the test of time as arguably the best Hollywood ski movie ever made...and certainly the bd Jackie Chan have even begun to sneak skiing and snowboarding into their respective films, to the sports' advantage. Skiing, for lack of a better word, is sexy again. And exotic. And alluring. In short, what it used to be.

So is skiing poised to make a comeback in Hollywood?

CUT TO:
FRITZ
Perhaps I could tell you. But zen I vould haff to kill you.

THE BEST

SUN VALLEY SERENADE 1941; starring Sonja Henie, John Payne, Milton Berle and the Glenn Miller Orchestra

When "Sun Valley Serenade" was released in 1941, audiences expected glitz on snow. And the movie delivers. It was intended as little more than a star vehicle for the newly minted figure skating gold medalist Sonja Henie (who plays a cute Norwegian war refugee), but the attention to skiing detail and skiing etiquette makes the dynamic between the co-stars truly fun. In fact, the skiing makes sense-an active, beautiful woman tests her mate's mettle by chasing him (and being chased) all over the hill. With Glenn Miller's cool riffs in the background, the backlit, afternoon images of Henie and Payne gliding over open snowfields on Baldy are nearly hallucinatory. Granted, the Henie/Miller musical numbers can go on a little long, and some of the Milton Berle jokes are hilariously dated.

But the idea that Henie wants to marry Payne when she finds out he can't imagine winter without skiing is entirely pleasant. And when someone asks "Do you know 'It happened in Sun Valley?'" Glenn Miller's big-band answer is, of course, "Yes."
-P.H.

H.E.L.P! 1965; starring The Beatles One look at "H.E.L.P!," and you'll agree: MTV probably owes it all to director Richard Lester. Simply put, H.E.L.P! was way ahead of its time. It's silly and innocent in a pre-Vietnam War kind of way, but the film has an unbelievably strong soundtrack. Tunes such as HELP, Ticket to Ride, The Night Before, A Hard Day's Night (played on the sitar), and many other rock 'n roll classics are here, most of them set to zany ski footage.

Wait a minute. Skiing? Yes, and lots of it. First, there's the wacky montage of the boys in the Alps doing tricks on their Kneissls, and then there are the Avedonesque, posed landscape portraits of the guys in the snow. The film is not much more than a string of excuses for the Fab Four to stop and sing, but seeing George, Ringo, Paul and John doing 360s, carving arcs on White Stars and cracking wiseacre ski quips is endlessly entertaining.

Care about the plot? You shouldn't. Suffice it to say that skiing figures heavily in the film's biggest chase scene. And surprise, the boys actually know how to turn 'em. Where they learned-Liverpool is notoriously lacking in snow-is anybody's guess.
-P.H.

ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE 1969; starring George Lazenby, Telly Savalas and Diana Rigg

Alright, let's get right to the point: Watching George Lazenby take over for Sean Connery as Bond was not unlike watching Deborah Norville replace Jane Pauley. Sometimes, it has to be said, enthusiasm isn't enough.

In spite of that, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" may be the best in the Bond series. The film gets off to a heart-pounding start when Bond escapes from Telly Savalas down a ski slope. On one ski. While returning automatic weapons fire. And returning one attacker to his maker via enterprising use of a ski edge. Bond's narrow escape enrages the bad guy (Savalas, shaved clean and adorned with an annoying lap cat named Fluffy), who then continues to hound Bond from his exotic ski house.

It's campy, fun and truly exciting. And when Bond is forced to hop into a bobsled track to escape Savalas' henchmen (shot with a handheld 35 mm camera by the incomparable Willy Bogner), well, there are few more exciting chase scenes in film.
-P.H.

DOWNHILL RACER 1969; starring Robert Redford and Gene HackmanDownhill Racer" has stood the test of time as arguably the best Hollywood ski movie ever made...and certainly the best ski racing flick. While other Hollywood films used skiing as a backdrop for romance or drama, this one is all about ski racing, and more specifically about the effects of commercialism on Olympic sport.

Robert Redford was a young rising star when the film was released in 1969; he was also working on "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid," and his signature Sundance Resort in Utah. Besides playing the lead role, Redford devoted time to ensure the film was authentic. Footage was shot at actual World Cup races in St. Anton, KitzbÜhel, Megève and Wengen.

The plot is thin-rebellious young racer (modeled after Spider Sabich) from Idaho Springs, Colo., rises up to the ski team and battles politics and romantic subversion to win Olympic gold. But the action footage is more than worth the price of renting the video. The drama and the skiing are still tops today. Among other nuances, Downhill Racer includes what is probably the first-ever Skiercross, now a staple of the X Games. It comes in a scene in which Redford's double races down the Lauberhorn shoulder-to-shoulder with his rival on the U.S. squad.
¿Andy Bigford

THE WORST

ASPEN EXTREME, 1993, starring Patrick Hasburgh, Paul Gross and Finola Hughes

For some reason, anyone with a lot of money who visits Aspen either wants to open a restaurant there or make a movie about the world's most upscale resort. Either way, the results are tough to stomach. In this case, two blue-collar Detroit buddies, T.J. and Dexter, shove their jobs and head to Aspen to taste the good life. Dex later pays the ultimate price in an avalanche, while the good-looking T.J. doesn't get off so easily: He has to shack up in a mansion with an Aspen richie before returning to the townie girl who gave him a cup of coffee his first night. Surprisingly, this low-cost three-reeler has some of the best ski footage this side of glossy James Bond stunt-a-minute films. Check out the first two names in the credits for the 20 stunt skiers: Scot Schmidt and Doug Coombs, who dance like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire on anything frozen. (Who cares if the action sequences were shot in the Canadian Rockies and are laughably passed off as Aspen Mountain.) It's worth a Blockbuster visit just to see Aspen race supervisor Scott Nichols ski down a frozen water fall as T.J.'s stunt double. Director Patrick Hasburgh may have put heliskiing in Aspen (illegal) and had the boys find an apartment in 72 hours (impossible), but he did hit the bulls'-eye with one line of dialogue. "Everybody here," Dexter says upon arrival, "has got a good butt."
-Greg Trinker

Hot Dog...The Movie 1984; starring former Playmate, and B-movie queen, Shannon Tweed

It's a kick to watch any movie that opens with a 4-minute sequence of skiers ripping down the steeps of California's Squaw Valley and features a guy crashing through a restaurant window on a pair of Dynastars. Despite its reputation, Hot Dog is less of a ski film than a raunchy Eighties' take on those Sixties' beach movies, with snow replacing sand as the setting for silly teenage hijinks.

The plot is frat-boy simple: A young, Midwestern skier heads to Squaw Valley, Calif., to compete in the World Freestyle Championships. Once there, he's befriended by a bunch of fun-loving resort rats as he tries to wrestle the crown away from Euro-snob Rudolph Garmish, the self-proclaimed "world's greatest skier." In the movie's best performance, Rudy treats the slopes as if they were his private disco floor and American skiers as if they were insects to crush beneath his Lange boots.

Now, a full 15 years after it opened, "Hot Dog" is so dated that it successfully has crossed over into point-and-laugh camp. The ballet, mogul and aerial competitions never deliver the thrills and skills teased in the opening credits, and the Eighties' alpha-dog moves of back-scratchers and double-daffeys now seem as quaint as stem-christies. That said, it's hard to totally rip a movie that inclludes the line: "I used to have a girlfriend. But all I do is ski and she got tired of being No. 2."
-G.T. ski racing flick. While other Hollywood films used skiing as a backdrop for romance or drama, this one is all about ski racing, and more specifically about the effects of commercialism on Olympic sport.

Robert Redford was a young rising star when the film was released in 1969; he was also working on "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid," and his signature Sundance Resort in Utah. Besides playing the lead role, Redford devoted time to ensure the film was authentic. Footage was shot at actual World Cup races in St. Anton, KitzbÜhel, Megève and Wengen.

The plot is thin-rebellious young racer (modeled after Spider Sabich) from Idaho Springs, Colo., rises up to the ski team and battles politics and romantic subversion to win Olympic gold. But the action footage is more than worth the price of renting the video. The drama and the skiing are still tops today. Among other nuances, Downhill Racer includes what is probably the first-ever Skiercross, now a staple of the X Games. It comes in a scene in which Redford's double races down the Lauberhorn shoulder-to-shoulder with his rival on the U.S. squad.
¿Andy Bigford

THE WORST

ASPEN EXTREME, 1993, starring Patrick Hasburgh, Paul Gross and Finola Hughes

For some reason, anyone with a lot of money who visits Aspen either wants to open a restaurant there or make a movie about the world's most upscale resort. Either way, the results are tough to stomach. In this case, two blue-collar Detroit buddies, T.J. and Dexter, shove their jobs and head to Aspen to taste the good life. Dex later pays the ultimate price in an avalanche, while the good-looking T.J. doesn't get off so easily: He has to shack up in a mansion with an Aspen richie before returning to the townie girl who gave him a cup of coffee his first night. Surprisingly, this low-cost three-reeler has some of the best ski footage this side of glossy James Bond stunt-a-minute films. Check out the first two names in the credits for the 20 stunt skiers: Scot Schmidt and Doug Coombs, who dance like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire on anything frozen. (Who cares if the action sequences were shot in the Canadian Rockies and are laughably passed off as Aspen Mountain.) It's worth a Blockbuster visit just to see Aspen race supervisor Scott Nichols ski down a frozen water fall as T.J.'s stunt double. Director Patrick Hasburgh may have put heliskiing in Aspen (illegal) and had the boys find an apartment in 72 hours (impossible), but he did hit the bulls'-eye with one line of dialogue. "Everybody here," Dexter says upon arrival, "has got a good butt."
-Greg Trinker

Hot Dog...The Movie 1984; starring former Playmate, and B-movie queen, Shannon Tweed

It's a kick to watch any movie that opens with a 4-minute sequence of skiers ripping down the steeps of California's Squaw Valley and features a guy crashing through a restaurant window on a pair of Dynastars. Despite its reputation, Hot Dog is less of a ski film than a raunchy Eighties' take on those Sixties' beach movies, with snow replacing sand as the setting for silly teenage hijinks.

The plot is frat-boy simple: A young, Midwestern skier heads to Squaw Valley, Calif., to compete in the World Freestyle Championships. Once there, he's befriended by a bunch of fun-loving resort rats as he tries to wrestle the crown away from Euro-snob Rudolph Garmish, the self-proclaimed "world's greatest skier." In the movie's best performance, Rudy treats the slopes as if they were his private disco floor and American skiers as if they were insects to crush beneath his Lange boots.

Now, a full 15 years after it opened, "Hot Dog" is so dated that it successfully has crossed over into point-and-laugh camp. The ballet, mogul and aerial competitions never deliver the thrills and skills teased in the opening credits, and the Eighties' alpha-dog moves of back-scratchers and double-daffeys now seem as quaint as stem-christies. That said, it's hard to totally rip a movie that includes the line: "I used to have a girlfriend. But all I do is ski and she got tired of being No. 2."
-G.T.totally rip a movie that includes the line: "I used to have a girlfriend. But all I do is ski and she got tired of being No. 2."
-G.T.