Filming the Impossible. Leo Dickinson. Jonathan Cape, London, 1982. 250 pages, color photographs. £12.50.
Rarely does one find in a single person both top-level climbing ability and top-level film-making skills. Leo Dickinson is such a person. His new book, Filming the Impossible, recounts his experiences making eleven different outdoor adventure films; with subject matter spanning climbing, ballooning, sky diving, and canoeing.
Dickinson’s first documentary film, for Yorkshire Television, was no less than a climber’s-eye-view of the north face of the Eiger. Not for Dickinson the long-distance perspective of the Kleine Scheidegg telescopes, or the hovering platform of the helicopter. Dickinson the film maker was also Dickinson the climber, feeling the crunch of his crampons into the brittle surface of the second icefield, and craning his neck worriedly upwards as the high-pitched whine of yet another falling stone narrowly missed Dickinson, the target.
To climb the Eiger Nordwand by any means, under the best of conditions, travelling as lightly as possible, is an achievement that has eluded some of the best mountaineers in the world. Don Whillans, for example, spent many fruitless years in this quest, and did not succeed. Others who have tried, too many, are now only crosses on a route diagram. Dickinson made it, carrying the weighty paraphernalia of the film maker, and brought back a superb documentary.
As with the Eiger, Dickinson’s account of the north face of the Matterhorn blends the story of a gripping climb with technical details of filming in the most difficult of terrain.
Everest Unmasked, Dickinson’s film of the Messner/Habeler oxygenless Everest ascent, rightfully won the Golden Gentian Award at the Trento Film Festival.
Among the other accounts, filming Eric Jones’ solo ascent of the north face of the Eiger; the drama of Cerro Torre; and ski exploration of the Patagonian Icecap hold the most interest for climbing readers. However, descent by kayak of the Dudh Kosi, the river that flows from Everest Base Camp, together with accounts of hot-air ballooning and sky diving, provide diverse elements held together by a common thread.
This is a well-written, interesting, albeit somewhat specialized book, written by a person who is unquestionably the world’s leading adventure film maker. Anyone who carries a camera in the mountains, whether still or movie, will profit from the tips to be gleaned from its pages. The ascents themselves, household names in the main, are different when viewed by Dickinson’s perceptive eye behind the lens.