We’re not afraid to call the movie Wind a classic, even though it was not well received at the box office in 1992, and even though the film, like all art imitating life, took some liberties with the truth. (A masthead spinnaker on a 12-Meter?!) But as movies age, they tend to transcend whatever genre and box office construct they were conceived in, and can perhaps be seen in their rawer, truer form.
One of the film’s writers was Kimball Livingston, a sailing journalist, former commodore of St. Francis Yacht Club and one of the sport’s most dedicated enthusiasts. On his website Blue Planet Times, Livingston wrote a retrospective of the movie, saying: “Wind never took off at the box office. Some people liked it, some didn’t, and lots of serious sailors walked out grousing that, yeah, maybe the sailing sequences got you going, but the story did not achieve the smell of authentic camel dung in high heat in the desert. Over time, that washed away, and Wind found a place as a cult film.”
Our own Max Ebb also weighed in: “In Wind, Lee Helm may well have been the inspiration for the female lead,” Max said. “Livingston is local and almost certainly a Latitude reader for many years before he contributed to the Wind screenplay.”
Wind is decidedly a ’90s movie, a quality that can only be described as something that you know when you see. It’s the pace: The shots are longer and grander, and the editing is slower. The movie takes its time, rather than the rapid-fire choppiness we’ve come to expect from the modern, Fast and Furious generation of filmmaking. And the movie is . . . quiet. There are long, beautiful moments without a word of dialogue.
One of our favorite scenes has our two heroes — played by Matthew Modine and Jennifer Grey — outside an airplane hangar in the desert as the breeze comes up at dusk. Grey closes her eyes and lets the wind wash over her, while the perpetually boyish Modine plays in the breeze, using his shirt as a sail to run downwind on his bike. To us, those quiet moments, far away from the ocean, represent the essence of sailing — simply, playing in the wind.
When we asked on our Facebook page: “What did the movie mean to you?” John Sangmeister replied, “Income.”
Sangmeister was starboard mainsheet trimmer on the 1987 and 1992 Stars & Stripes teams. He played Skye in Wind, one of the many nameless, dialogue-less ’90s beefcakes serving as crew. Sangmeister happened to be at a book store when he saw former NFL player Roy Forbes reading a ‘learn to sail’ manual. Striking up a conversation, Forbes told Sangmeister that he was being cast for a movie — about the America’s Cup, being made by Francis Ford Coppola — and that he should audition.
“I have no problems with the sailing ‘inconsistencies’,” Sangmeister said of Wind’s liberties with accuracy. “Like having streamers off the backstay of Geronimo [the protagonist’s boat in the third act of the movie]. We pooh-pooed it at the time, but I wish we made them look more bitchin’. It’s some of the finest sailing footage you’ve ever seen.”
Because cameras flatten the sea state, Sangmeister said that the final sailing scenes were shot in almost 35 knots of wind. “It was visually boring in anything less than 30 knots. We shot in both Fremantle and then Hawaii, because we ran out of wind in Australia — ‘the Doctor’ never showed up,” Sangmeister said, referring to the famed seabreeze in Western Australia.
This brings us to one the most critical scenes in the final act of the movie.
“[Director] Carroll [Ballard] was firm that the Good Guys had to come from behind in the Big Moment to win the Big Race,” Livingston wrote on his website. “And he was firm that the critical scene had to turn on something visual that anybody in the audience could see and understand. So why not a super-sized masthead spinnaker on a fractional rig? . . . Why not the Whomper?”
Livingston said he had nothing to do with the Whomper. “I even hated it. But later, when Paul Cayard and his EF Language guys racing around the world started calling one of their sails ‘the Whomper’, and as the Whomper became the wrinkle of the movie that gained a life of its own, I found myself thinking, doggies, I wish that was mine.”
The majority of comments on our Facebook page centered around this now-infamous sail — Sangmeister enthusiastically called the Whomper “the greatest invention in sailing of all time. We got a 12-Meter to nearly 20 knots.”
Here’s what some of you said about the movie: “I watched it for the first time in sailing camp as a little kid,” wrote Ryan Nelson. “I became obsessed; the movie inspired me to get into the sailing industry. The sailing was believable but obviously not accurate. The cinematography was amazing! And it had a bunch of great lines that must be repeated when morale is low on a race boat.”
Yes, the cinematography — after re-watching the film (for the first time in about 15 years) and being stunned by the sheer beauty if it, we IMDBed the cinematographer, John Toll, who would go on to win Academy Awards for Legends of the Fall and Braveheart, his next two films after Wind. The point was echoed by Livingston and other people associated with the movie. Sangmeister believes Toll would have been nominated for an Oscar for Wind, had it fared better at the box office.
“I loved the movie because the sailing scenes ‘engaged’ me,” wrote Larry De La Briandais. “I was able to ignore anything that was not correct. I felt like they had good coverage of actual sailing.”
Jennie Crum said Wind was “hilarious from start to finish. I loved the way they changed the bits of reality so that the US team came up with all the good innovations. The best part was when they decided to have the next race with ‘no rules’! Poke that spinnaker with your pole!”
Ah yes, another suspension of belief. Just as our heroes have clawed their way from behind, they’re sabotaged. “There were three Whompers, all destroyed in one day to get different angles of the ‘a bit of spearfishing’ scene,” Sangmeister said.
A large chunk of Wind takes place in the desert in Utah, where our heroes are in deep contemplation of their futures, and of the intricacies of yacht racing designs. “We giggled,” Sangmeister said, “because we were reading the script, and thought, ‘Who the hell would do that?’ But literally the next day, Bill Koch decided to build his boat for the ’92 Cup in the desert in Utah.”
Sometimes, life imitates art.