After the recent death of BASE jumper Dean Potter in Yosemite National Park, a documentary portrait of the thrill-seeking movement's founding father, Carl Boenish, is an all-too-palpable reminder of the peril that comes with extreme rock climbing.
"Sunshine Superman" centers on the geeky Boenish, an engineer-turned-freefall photographer who let his childlike enthusiasm for the sport lead him from cliff-jumping at El Capitan in California to skydiving off skyscrapers before he fatefully tested his limits in 1984 in the mountains of Norway.
While this buoyant account of his brief but eventful life might feel like a rock climber's "Man on a Wire," the Oscar-winning 2008 documentary about tightrope walker Philippe Petit, director Marah Strauch gives the film an exhilarating uplift of its own.
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Letting her subject's goofy charm be her guide, Strauch nimbly combines original 16mm footage and archival snippets with Boenish, his equally game and equally nerdy wife, Jean, and bemused news personalities of the era (including a young Pat Sajak) with fresh interviews and artful dramatic re-creations to lively effect. (Potter isn't among the jumpers featured in the film.)
With a closing sequence featuring modern-day wingsuit flyers carrying on the BASE legacy, gorgeously gliding through majestic, mountainous terrain accompanied by all those '60s and '70s "people gotta be free" songs, it's easy to see the attraction of untethered abandon, despite the ever-inherent risks.
MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, language, smoking, a brief nude image.
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.
Playing: The Landmark, Los Angeles.