Climbing DVD’s: What’s Hot and What’s Not

hate climbing video’s, which for someone who once chanced his arm making them is a terrible thing to admit. However that said there have been a few films recently that have made me rethink my dislike for the genre. Previously other than Stone Monkey and Hard Grit many climbing film were both poor in term of quality, story and content. The proliferation of miniDV cameras, cheap editing and homegrown cinema did very little to improve on the dearth of real quality. Often the best thing on offer was various footage of climbing something hard, edited like a music video and set to some awful techno.

What these three films offer is a look into what is the cutting edge of rock climbing in 2008. In the case of The Sharp End this is what the Americans have to offer. Now I would usually add a joke about Bush, and arse’s and elbow’s around now, but Obama has saved the day. Now in the UK one of the guys in this video has stirred things up by repeating one of the UK’s hardest routes and having the cheek to downgrade it. Now before I saw this film I had a similar reaction. ‘What is some yank doing coming over to our crags, messing with our grades, bla, bla, bla….’ However the footage of Alex Honnold climbing an outrageous arete in the Czech republic made me question my outrage. As whilst he might not up to date on the UK grading system, he sure as hell knows everything about hard on sight traditionally protected death routes.

Basically this film blew me away, having climbed with many people in Alistair Lee’s On Sight film, many of whom are the UK’s best I felt that a few of these Americans really were in a different league. The sheer audacity of some of them left me speechless. Whilst as a film it was less likely to get an Oscar for its story or narrative. If there was one for the most stupid thing you have every seen anyone survive then this would win hands down. I really don’t want to spoil the content but keep an eye out for Dean Potter BASE soloing routes. Yes that’s right, soloing route with nothing more than a parachute for protection! This is a must see film.

After that it was going to be hard for On Sight to compete, however what you get is a British eye’s view of an honest approach to climbing. Fortunately despite trying Alistair doesn’t seem to capture many true on-sight climbs, instead we see many of the UK’s best traditional climbers narrowly missing out on on sight ascents. Since climbing films are really only good when you see people scared out of their minds, screaming for there mummy and then falling off onto poor gear, this made the film way more interesting than if they all succeeded. For anyone that has seen the opening sequence to Hard Grit and liked it then the start to this film won’t disappoint. As we see Pete Robin’s strung out panting at the top of a classic hard grit route, he looks so scared you can almost hear his heart beating out of his chest.

The film then goes on a whistle stop tour of climbs, and climbers who are trying to push the boundaries of what is possible to climb from the ground up – on sight. No cheating by trying the route on a nice safe top rope before hand. Despite the numerous failures, this film does capture the adventure and the effort that the UK’s leading climbers put into improving the style in which a route is climbed. The star of this film is Neil Dickson, who has really taken concept as far as possible on death routes, his ability to remain cool, calm and collected seem endless. Above all this is a heartening film about what the best climbers in the UK are up to, and in a way it is the antithesis of the head point era that Hard Grit spawned, again a must see film, if only for the education in ethics.

The last film that has been released this month is Dave Macloed’s Echo Wall, a documentary about the work that Dave put in to make an ascent of his project high up on Ben Nevis. The film was Dave and his wife’s first attempt at making a film. Now before we get going on the review please bear in mind that any film that tries to capture one hard route, like Equilibrium, E11 and now Echo Wall, all have one thing in common they focus one climber. As such they are more often than not about as interesting as watching paint dry. Perhaps the only film that focuses on one climber that’s worth watching is Stone Monkey, main because of Johnny’s Dawes charisma, something that Dave lacks. Whilst it might seem interesting to hear the trials and tribulations of one of the UK’s leading climbers, climbing a route that is the hardest, boldest, most difficult to get to route in the country, it quickly loses its appeal.

Now Dave is an awesome climber, driven, obsessive, at times probably excessively so. However whilst Louis Therroux may have been able to capture that insanity I think that as a husband and wife team trying to make there first film, they were perhaps too close to the subject matter. As such this film doesn’t cut the mustard compared to the other DVD’s released for Christmas market. In fact I say if you do get this in your stocking fast forward it to the end, watch the last ten minutes where Dave climbs the route. If you do want to watch a film about one route then the best on offer is another film feature Dave, E11 about his last hardest route in the UK, Rhapsody in inner city Glasgow. I like Dave, but unfortunately I don’t like his film.

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