Review: ‘Sunshine Superman’ follows BASE-jumper pioneer

Tom Long
The Detroit News

You may find “Sunshine Superman” exhilarating or you may find “Sunshine Superman” terrifying, but you almost surely will not find it boring.

This is the story of Carl Boenisch, a guy who liked to jump a lot. On a pogo stick, a trampoline, out of an airplane, off a skyscraper or a cliff or a TV tower, the guy just loved to jump. He started skydiving in the ’70s, even earned credits coordinating skydiving stunts for movies, but that wasn’t enough for Carl.

Luckily for writer-director Marah Strauch, Carl also liked to film himself and others jumping off and out of things, so while she does a certain amount of reconstructing with stand-ins and filming of talking heads, she has ample real footage of Carl falling through the air from stomach-rolling heights.

Most of the footage comes from the ’70s and ’80s, when Carl and some friends essentially invented BASE jumping, the practice of jumping off tall, stationary objects and free-falling before releasing a parachute. Carl gained quite a bit of notoriety doing this and there are plenty of interviews — with Pat Sajak, Phil Donahue, Kathie Lee Gifford — in which Carl touts the spirit-freeing benefits of jumping off a cliff.

As crazy as all the jumping is — and it is seriously crazy — possibly the film’s most hair-raising moment is when Carl climbs out on a metal ladder he built in his own backyard that’s suspended high above Yosemite. He has no parachute and sits on a small bicycle seat set atop the ladder to film friends jumping. Totally nuts.

Carl’s chief accomplice in all this is his young wife, Jean, who’s interviewed extensively and looks far more like a meek librarian than someone who would jump off anything Carl would jump off. There’s an eerie stillness to Jean that plays off Carl’s almost nerdy constant energy.

It’s a marriage made, and spent at least partly, in heaven.

‘Sunshine Superman’


Rated PG for thematic elements, some language, smoking, and a brief nude image

Running time: 100 minutes

At the Detroit Film Theatre