November 26, 2015 -- This documentary about Carl Boenish, founder of modern BASE jumping is a captivating portrait of a man unlike any other. Not just an adrenalin junkie, but superb cinematographer, technical wizard, philosopher, filmmaker and main proponent of his chosen sport.
Boenish was an avid parachutist, even while working as an electrical engineer, his real passion was jumping out of airplanes and capturing the jumps on film. That is what led him to work as a cinematographer in a dramatic film about parachute daredevils, John Frankenheimer's “The Gypsy Moths” in 1969. He was hooked, quit his job and became a full-time cinematographer. He made his own films about parachuting.
Turning to more challenging jumps, he and his friends started jumping from mountains, radio towers, bridges and buildings. Boenish and his friends coined a name for their sport, BASE (an acronym meaning Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth) jumping. BASE jumpers are those who have made at least one jump in each of those four categories.
Boenish and his friends made some of the pioneering BASE jumps from the top of the 3,000-foot El Capitan cliff in Yosemite National Park, filmed the jumps and popularized the sport. In the documentary, Boenish is seen perched on a ladder-like contraption he built so he could film the jumpers leaping towards him as they jumped off the top of the cliff. A narrator describes that perch as “crazy.”
Although Boenish was extremely enthusiastic about BASE jumping, he wasn't crazy. He was detail oriented and concerned with safety. Over 40 and single, he finally met someone with similar interests, Jean. They were married after a very brief romance. Neither Boenish, nor his wife seem like the kind of people who would do any BASE jumping, but they sure did. Jean Boenish, with her quiet, calm demeanor, could be mistaken for a librarian, but she is brave, determined, smart and skilled, a fascinating person in her own right.
The film makes use of a huge collection of film (reportedly 70,000 feet of 16mm film shot by Boenish was found during the making of this documentary) shot by Boenish to show the excitement of BASE jumping, and to document Boenish's life. These action shots illustrate the excitement and danger of BASE jumping, as well as Boenish's boyish enthusiasm and sense of playfulness.
The film ends with a detailed account of a record-breaking BASE jump made by Boenish and his wife from the Troll Wall (Trollveggen) in Norway. It was filmed for a “Guinness World Records” television special hosted by David Frost and Kathie Lee Johnson (now Kathie Lee Gifford).
The next day, Boenish did another jump from the Troll Wall and died in the attempt. The documentary argues that Boenish took a risky jump from the Stabben Wall because a leg injury made it difficult for him to hike up to a safer launch point at Bruraskaret. His Christian Science beliefs reportedly kept him from getting a broken leg set properly after a previous hang gliding injury.
Two days later, Jean Boenish and Carl Fenz made a successful BASE jump together from the Troll Wall. She said she wanted to show that “There was nothing wrong with BASE jumping because of this,” and that Carl Boenish would have wanted it that way. Her calm but defiant media interviews after landing demonstrates what a remarkable person she is.
There is also spectacular footage taken recently of a daring BASE jumping flight using a modern wing suit. Boenish would have loved to have had one of those amaziang wing suits, but they were developed after his death. Carl Boenish has passed into legend, but his sport lives on and the remarkable film he shot lives on in “Sunshine Superman.” This film rates an A.
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