MORGAN WELD: Gentlemen, you are all in a line of elite men, great men, who have defended the world’s most enduring sporting record. It’s an honor to know you; it’s an honor to sail with you. Tradition has it that the first American skipper to ever lose the Cup will replace it with his own head in the trophy case. Gentlemen, my head is in your hands. Please be careful, I’ve become attached to it. I would propose a toast: The Cup.
THOSE GATHERED AROUND HIM: “Hear! Hear! The Cup!”
So Carol Ballard’s WIND, which is about rather wealthy people pursuing the America’s Cup in yachting, doesn’t sound like a film that should excite too many, and the thirty million dollar production only returned about six million in the U.S. upon its release. WIND, released to indifferent critical response in 1992, nevertheless proves a surprisingly easy film to adore. The film uses the Cup series of yachting races as a backdrop for both an adventures-on-the-sea yarn and a romantic scenario involving sane, self-absorbed people. Ballard, director of THE BLACK STALLION, has a filmography bursting with dependably stunning films, and generally doesn’t go out of his way to prime audiences with cheap emotion or amaze with self-consciously showy scenes.
This helps, if not at the box-office, where good old fashioned audience-pummeling like in ROCKY pays off in spades. I wouldn’t call his a minimal aesthetic, but for all of the beauty of a boy riding a black stallion bareback on a beach, Ballard’s camera placement and editing choices have always felt natural and largely discrete. Things seem to unfold naturally in his pictures, and reasonably. In WIND, we get inside the minds of its well-to-do, preoccupied characters, understanding their weaknesses and uncertainties, making them and their grandiloquent efforts to win at a vanity sport for the wealthy touching and interesting.
Capturing the beautiful ocean imagery is the relatively easy part (for Ballard’s keen eye anyway), but he makes the self-involved flakes before us sensuous and alive by focusing on their humiliation and eccentricity; the fictional WIND uses the loss of the America’s Cup by the USA to Australia in 1983, breaking the longest ever running winning streak in world sports history, as its dramatic springboard. Cliff Robertson’s wealthy sponsor Morgan Weld from one angle is as egotistical and tedious as Donald Trump has repeatedly proved himself, but Ballard and Robertson focus, smartly, on humanizing his flaws. It might be Robertson’s most focused screen performances; he is a Mouse-King whose vanity is his destroyer, and the well-appointed stupor Weld descends into when things go wrong is interesting and persuasive.
There’s a sense of discovery in watching WIND; the sport is about as far from the workaday world as it gets, but it doesn’t take long before you’re agreeing that this is a most honorable pursuit for anyone with loads of money. You buy into the mythology of the America’s Cup Yacht race, something I had never stopped to consider before first seeing this film in 93 or so on DVD, but which has stuck with me since. WIND is genuinely lyrical. I believe in it.
Matthew Modine, always a trustworthy actor, plays the protagonist Will Parker’s basic quality without diminishing the self-interest of some of his decisions. He makes American narcissism, combined with competence and the ability to love, feel like the best part of our national character. The film is very nation conscious – the U.S. had never lost the America’s Cup until Australia, here personified with gruff efficiency by Jack Thompson, steals it away, and the loss is humiliation on a global scale. Winning this cup is the least these wealthy royal fools could do for us, and without the Cup our protagonists are rudderless and lost. A terrific Jennifer Grey, still the very pretty Jewish sweetheart of DIRTY DANCING before she shaved off the larger part of her nose and, alas, went into career obscurity, is almost lyrically plain, appealing in a convincingly average way, but also knowing, communicating the necessity of an intelligent woman having to abide insecure men while not allowing herself to be chewed up by their masculine games. The film is short on squalor, but long on authentic neurosis, and it’s a fair trade off, keeping the story grounded. The world of the wealthy and the sea certainly photographs well, and the late, missed Basil Poledouris provides a rousing and lovely score that complements his impressive score for John Milius’ surfing epic BIG WEDNESDAY. Hopefully Poledouris is somewhere in the heavens scoring crashing tides for the Gods.
The new Blu-Ray on demand from SONY is a lovely 2017 surprise, featuring a laid-back running commentary by Modine. Check it out.