With the sound of relentless wind, the light shimmer of strings, and chilling piano notes, the opening credits of Mountain begin. Mountain is the latest hybrid odyssey that the Australian Chamber Orchestra has created. It is a seamless marriage of music, cinematography, and storytelling that perfectly encapsulates our often-fraught relationship with mountains.
The haze on screen, which sits above the Concert Hall stage, depicts a tiny figure, a single climber who is sticking to a vast, sheer rock face. His presence dwarfed as the camera looks down on the climber above taking in the dizzying drop below him. I later learned that the climber on screen is Alex Honnold who is known for his solo ascents — climbs undertaken without ropes or harnesses.
Mountain draws the audience into this juxtaposed world of beauty and terror. The stunning montages and images of majestic mountains coupled with the abstraction of music that underscores and captivates opens up a portal through which we can experience the allure and portent of mountains- from the comfort of a seat and not hanging off a rock face.
A three-year collaboration between Writer, Director, and Producer Jenifer Peedom, Musical Director Richard Tognetti, Cinematographer Renan Ozturk, and Scriptwriter Robert Macfarlane (whose work is narrated by Willem Dafoe) creates an enthralling, exciting, and surprisingly introspective production about our breathtaking planet, and the push and pull between the strength and fragility of the human spirit.
While there is no narrative to drive momentum, the audience is introduced to various ideas and scenes with Dafoe’s narration. His calm and somewhat intense voice lends itself well to the emotional landscape and visual feast presented.
Mountain attempts to bring you into a space that sane people would not otherwise dwell. We again meet Alex Honnold as he smiles madly to himself in the prelude, hundreds of feet above the ground without ropes or a harness. ‘You never feel so alive knowing that any minute you could die’, a poignant sentiment that becomes the crux for many a mountain climber.
The music, however, is not for Alex or other adventurous climbers. Here it’s for the more typically human viewers with their self-preservation instincts intact. Four Violins in B minor and excerpts from the Four Seasons accompanies footage of spectacular athletic conquests, death-defying feats, bruising crashes and wild near-misses elicit gasps, nervous laughter, sweaty palms, and anxiety from the audience.
Tognetti invites the audience to see more than just the music. Synesthesia, the cross-triggering of senses, is a core concept in his artistic direction of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. ‘Being in a pitch dark room can make your thoughts brighter, and being alone atop a mountain can bring you closer to humanity’, he said.
The original score aims to embody the physical, emotional, and geographic drama. The extreme emotions of irony, arrogance, exhaustion, terror contrasting with beauty, triumph, serenity and humility are exhibited in the film with original compositions that are full of space and dissonance.
There are times that the visuals are so mesmerizing that the music serves as enhancement rather than focus. At other times, the music is in the spotlight — as seen with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major which transcends it all.
There is a tension and release of music and film. Mountain is poetically crafted making an entertaining, enlightening, and intensely gripping viewer experience.
Antoinette Milienos is a Journalist, Freelance Writer, Violinist, and chronic sufferer of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).