Monday, November 11, 2013

The Crash Reel

Kevin Pearce moments after his life changing crash

The Crash Reel was one of those all too rare, these days at least, moments of television where nothing could distract you from what was a pretty horrifically engaging, graphic and emotionally pulling documentary.

The title of Lucy Walker's film takes it's name from the compilation of accidents that is usually tagged onto a film or programme about snow boarding or skiing. Walker had first met the subject of her film, Kevin Pearce, during a weekend get together organised by one of Pearce's sponsors. One of the themes that recurred through the film was how huge the sums of money are that Nike, Red Bull etc will pay these young stars of snow boarding. It also occurred to me that having long ginger or blonde hair was also a big plus, something us long haired gingers would never imagined possible back in the 1970's.

The big rivalry in snow boarding back in 2009 was between Shaun White and Kevin Pearce. The pair had been childhood friends but as they grew older so the demands of the sport, particularly the higher and higher demands of the sponsors and television pushed a wedge between them. When I had finished watching the film and spent a while reflecting on it I considered how best I could explain that rivalry in writing and it occurred to me that they were very much in the mould of Borg (White) and McEnroe (Pearce). White the accumulator of titles, respected but not loved by his opponents whilst Pearce was the party animal loved by all, except White.

The moment that came to define the rest of Kevin Pearce's life came during pre-Olympic training for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. As is often the way in life the series of events that lead to Pearce's accident couldn't be simpler and crueller. The group with whom Pearce is training find that the new 'half-pipe' they have travelled to train on doesn't mean their exacting standards and they decide to travel to Utah where Pearce will attempt the move that would result in so much physical and mental trauma, not just for him but for all those close to him.

Pearce was attempting a double cork jump, it went wrong, very wrong. The moment Pearce's face hits the compacted snow is one of the most sickening things I have ever seen captured on video, my legs turned to jelly watching it.  Pearce suffered brain damage at the moment of impact. Not only did he damage his brain but he damaged his eyes, his face, lost any sense of eye to hand co-ordination and there were doubts as to whether he would live again, let alone walk or attempt any form of exercise beyond the boredom of years of rehabilitation.

Lucy Walker's approach to directing is to be invisible, she is not so much a fly on the wall but an all seeing all hearing invisible ears and eyes on the world of Kevin Pearce and his wonderful family. As well as the likeable Kevin Pearce the family Pearce are the centrepiece, in particular his mother and his Down's syndrome brother David. David is the brother we should all have, a brother whose own life is full of ups and downs (no pun intended) a boy who admits to hating his disability but who himself wins Gold Medals at the Paralympics in the downhill skiing and implores Kevin, through a series of family dinners, not to go back on the slopes.

Walker is not judgemental in her approach, she allows all of the filmed subjects to simply express themselves, so we see Kevin Pearce's Mum in tears both at the hospital and at home, we see the brain specialist telling Kevin that any knock on the head could kill him and we see Kevin himself determined to prove everybody wrong.

What you learn from the film is that not only do we have enormous reserves of compassion for each other but that we also have it within us the need to express ourselves through ever increasing degrees of danger. I also felt a sense of anger at the sponsors of such events as one of the US Olympic team explained to a television interviewer how the half pipes themselves had grown in height from nine to twenty two feet, it was like watching the Romans through the Christians to the lions knowing that one slip could see it all end it tragedy. Pearce rejects the idea, however, that they are pushed beyond reasonable limits by the sport. "It's the athletes who push it. It was me. Snowboarding is about freedom and if limits were put on it or if there were rules, it wouldn't work."

Kevin Pearce today (or possibly last week)
Shaun White, of course in the way of these things, wins the 2010 Olympic Gold Medal, by performing the double-cork that nearly killed Pearce.

Pearce tried getting back on his snowboard but as the film shows the brain damage simply won't let him go further than what are really baby steps, although to be honest that is a mixed blessingas we are glad to see him walking but would rather not see him on the snow covered slopes again.Finally, and with a fair degree of soul searching and family intervention Pearce decides to turn his back on any thoughts of competitive Winter sports. Instead he, along with his brother David, are devoting their energies to a campaign to help victims of traumatic brain injuries who lack the luck and support that saved Kevin. 

In the film we also meet Sarah Burke, the top female freestyle skier, she also landed on her head in the same Utah halfpipe and spent days in a coma, but died after nine days. 

As for Shaun White he is currently practising a triple cork at his private pipe in Australia. He had it built by GoPro, one of his sponsors, who have installed several cameras along the run to record his every move. "The double cork isn't even dialled in yet and they're already going for a triple," Pearce says. "It's crazy."

Below is a short interview from July this year where Kevin talks about the accident, its aftermath and the film.


Span Ows said...

Nice post, this is a good story; reminds me of a surfing one I saw where a star champion surfer gets her arm bitten off by a shark (!!!) but after going through all the phases gets back and becomes a champion again, really moving and a true story (like the one what's his face Franco did about the guy that had to cut his own arm off to escape a rock fall etc.

Paul said...

Thanks Span, it was a very good film. I've seen the surf film but not seen the rock film which I think was 52 hours or something like that.

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