By James Kenney
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.
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.
The Blu-Ray on demand from SONY was a lovely unheralded 2017 surprise, featuring a laid-back running commentary by Modine. Check it out.