Point Break

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

22 October

World’s first parachute jump, 1797

On this day in 1797, André-Jacque Garnerin made the first descent by frameless parachute. Ascending from the Parc Monceau in a basket attached to what looked like a large furled umbrella, itself attached to a balloon, Garnerin got to around 900 metres (3,000 feet) before unpacking the chute and severing a cord attaching him to the balloon. His descent was ungainly and his basket fell rapidly and swung wildly. He arrived back on the ground with a thump but unhurt. Garnerin was not the first person to dabble with the parachute however. There are pictures from the mid 15th century in the Codex Atlanticus of Leonardo Da Vinci which show what has since been proved to be a workable design for a parachute, and one from 1470 by an unknown person of a man suspended below what looks like a a cone-shaped contraption which looks like a parachute but which wouldn’t have broken his fall very well (the “chute” in the word parachute being the fall, and the “para” meaning protection). However Garnerin is the first recorded instance of it having been done with what we would today recognise as a parachute and so wins the prize. His daring feat caused a sensation and made his name. Garnerin was later named Official Aeronaut of France and toured England, making one ascent from Lord’s Cricket Ground and arriving, reportedly, in Chingford 15 minutes later. Considering it’s 17 miles away (27.4km) there must have been one hell of a side wind that day, or someone has embellished the facts.

Point Break (1991, dir: Kathryn Bigelow)

Here we are in 1991, when Keanu Reeves was Lovely Keanu, young, surferish, just a bit Bill & Ted still, waiting for the next phase (which came with Speed) of his dance with fame. Point Break is a key film in his career, as it was in the career of Patrick Swayze, who went from Dirty Dancing to Road House to this, and then…

It’s also a major film for Kathryn Bigelow, transitioning between the pop-smart vampire flick Near Dark, the girl-in-jeopardy cop flick Blue Steel and into limbo until The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty reminded the world how good she was. So, Point Break, a kinda dumb, kinda mad film about an FBI rookie inflitrating an LA surfer gang who pull off bank jobs in their spare time, disguised in American presidents’ masks. Heading the gang is Swayze, as Bodhi, a Zen surf master, bank robber and sky diver. Swayze is always good for some easy laughs, but he is actually a lot better than that ridiculous surf/rob/jump precis suggests. The film is best known for its shots of surfer guys riding waves, and sky divers freefalling to earth, but it’s noticeable at this distance how much energy Bigelow puts into even the most basic sequences, while Reeves and Swayze both do their best with a script that’s a full wheel of cheese. With Point Break it’s full marks to the hairstylists, the body doubles (though Swayze did a lot if not all of his own skydiving) and California for being California, dude.

Why Watch?

  • Keanu and Swayze in their prime
  • Who says women can’t direct action?
  • Gary Busey and John McGinley adding flavoursome support
  • A soundtrack of old-school rock including Jimi Hendrix, Love, Deep Purple

Point Break – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2013

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