Director: Marah Staunch
3 (out of 5) Globes
Carl Boenish, the founder of the BASE sky-jumping movement, repeatedly risked life and limb to do the impossible — to imagine foolhardy dares for a humanity overly concerned with its own well-being. He even dreamt up forward-thinking ways to film his jumps. Is it too easy to point out that “Sunshine Superman,” the official doc on his life and work, does none of this? It’s a standard-issue account of his adventures and terrifying-looking leaps, with a production credit for Alex Gibney, the poster child for purely expository, assembly line docs. Director Marah Staunch fares better than Gibney, though much of that has to do with the copious jump footage Boenish left behind — and some stunning newbs — and not the way it’s been constructed.
At least Boenish is partially allergic to talking heads. There’s usually something interesting on-screen in “Sunshine Superman,” which charts Boenish’s early days as an illegal jumper to quasi-legitimacy to his death, his personality filled in by friends and especially his wife, Jean, an outsider who found herself transformed by meeting him. When there’s not vertigo-inducing shots of jumping — including several from Yosemite’s El Capitan rock formation — there’s recreations of, alas, mixed quality. Along with the jumps, the new footage sometimes has the quality of a fine fiction film, reminiscent of Kevin Macdonald’s “Touching the Void.” Others are distractingly unimaginative ways to just plug in images: when someone makes a call, there’s an anonymous shot of someone making a call; when two people get in a car, there are silhouettes of two people in a car; etc.
The jump footage, though, is key, and their reliable stunningness helps elevate what would otherwise by work of non-fiction mediocrity, and a paint-by-numbers look at an iconoclast and rebel. Boenish’s reckless habit — which soon gripped Jean, who even did the same jump that killed him after his passing — is treated with kid gloves, and the regulators and naysayers who would stop him are painted with a libertarian-ish brush. Staunch does capture his spirit, which is not something you can say of Gibney, who last year did the impossible and made a bland film about Fela Kuti. Still, “Sunshine Superman” does share one of Gibney’s more annoying habits: Spotifying painfully on-the-nose pop songs, ranging from the title tune to The Byrds to Belle and Sebastian to The Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe.” That last one does supply the soundtrack to one particularly transportive jump; ignore the word “air” and the sequence actually soars.