Waterwalker --- best-ever canoeing/northwoods video
May 06, 2007
[$22. ON SALE FOR $20!] Waterwalker is a great movie that everyone who loves water, canoes and the wilds should own.
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It's made by the late Bill Mason. He paddles a well-used old red wood&canvas canoe on an old-style solo tour in this movie, through the seasons, along Lake Superior and up and down some lovely rivers that emtpy into it. He does a dandy voiceover of the quiet scenes, with a wry Canadian humor. There's an early Bruce Cockburn soundtrack throughout. (90 minutes, DVD.)
Bill cruises the old way, wearing red-plaid wool, with campfires, ax, and a big open front canvas tent. It's nice to see.
He gets out of the way of the beauty of Lake Superior and just lets it shine through. Takes good camera skill to do that. Those deep, crystal clear bays, where you can see the bottom 30 feet down as his canoe drifts over top really appreciate it, too.
His overall approach is just about perfect: show the big lake then go up a river (showing the land, too) to where it's small, then come back down.
This also lets you show all the kinds of paddling from boat-o-cross (my term for pushing and hopping a canoe down a rocky, brush-clogged rivulet---like cross-country-canoeing---to bigwater sailing.
He also includes all the seasons. What true-blue paddler doesn't love a jaunt in the winter with the fresh air and crystal waters?
This movie captures it all so well.
The narrative content is fresh, understated, candid and complex---something rarely seen in American outdoor culture filmmaking.
He starts out the way all honest indy projects start out: by answering the question, How do I live like this? He tells us how he earns his living, and how he got there, from being a misfit kid. He shows how his movie project is part of his living, not a high-dollar luxury add-on. As Jack Saunders reminds us, Emerson said the first thing we wonder when we meet someone is How does that man earn an honest living? Corporate media tries to lie and hide as hard as it can about this subject.
I like how he admits the torsions in his life: His work is too preachy for his paddler friends and too sporty for his religious friends. Also, he wonders if he's a canoeist who loves to paint or a painter who loves to canoe? We have to resolve these things in life, bear the tension, not split ourselves into pieces a la the modern method that results in alienation, evil-doing and self-destruction. Not to put too fine a point on it.
Sure, enough I found reviews of the movie that say there's too much preaching in it, too much corny Indian chief voiceover. There's two mentions of religion and some Indian action, but hey those are his roots. It wasn't all stuff I'd heard before either. I'm willing to give a little to a bootstrap production that no one else has dared to improve upon.
I really liked one of his early remarks: When the white man arrived on this continent he said it was a pristine wilderness. Mason thought that was the biggest compliment one could've paid the native civilizations that had been flourishing there thousands of years already.
I liked how Bill said he missed his family on these solo outings. They do go on lots of family outings but he does solo, too. To tell what he's seeing to someone, to them, he paints. He also said painting and movies let him get the word out about conserving nature to more people than his old trip-guiding did. He's on a mission, has a duty. Art is part of it. The medium (not the message). That's kind of passe' in today's art world, if you didn't know.
He also said that he hears people cautioning against solo travel, but he said he'd never heard that from someone who went solo.
Any movie that makes stars out of Lake Superior beach stones is a winner in my book.
Bill Mason made the movie of the "Paddle to the Sea" book that we read and watched in elementary school and which was an early inspiration for me. (It got an Oscar nomination.)
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