Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Players: A Review

It has been a terrible Christmas break here in Boulder and therefore a great time to look over Brian Solano's film, The Players, which he kindly sent to me. When the snow is deep and the temps are consistently below freezing, a good climbing video can help with the motivation like few other training devices.

The movie presents us with portraits of nine climbers from the US who are currently at the top of the game, "players" as the jargon has it. Fortunately this concept is not taken too far and the climbers typically speak about themselves in more modest terms.

Joe Kinder gets the job done on Kryptonite and routes at Rifle such as Zulu and Girl Talk. Joe's voiceover is engaging and honest and the action is consistent and the energy is high. Good stuff so far.

Daniel Woods' section offers a look at the little-publicized Moe's Valley in Utah. The footage is good, but ultimately we don't learn a lot about what makes this powerhouse tick. The problems all look like V7 thanks to Daniel's power but they also look classic. The segment of Emily Harrington has much the same feel, nice footage but we are left wondering what is being left out.

The Chris Sharma segment is among the best, well filmed, and more introspective. The sequence of him onsighting Proper Soul at the New River Gorge is almost worth the price alone. Gorgeous shapes and colors dominate the screen as Chris walks the route. This is continued in the portion featuring Lisa Rands in South Africa's Rocklands, featuring aesthetic lines and appealing commentary and attitude. The camera movement on Nutsa really explores the boulder, giving an almost 3-D effect.

Chris Lindner explores the limits of deep-water soloing in Vietnam both in terms of death-defying plunges and the 360-degree possibilities of horizontal tufa-ridden ceilings. Ultimately this segment lost me as it was unclear what the purpose of the trip was, climbing or jumping in the water. The excursion into town to buy machetes to defend against escaped convicts turned pirate seemed slightly ridiculous, even if Joe Brooks is wielding them.

Although an unlikely locale for good innovative filming, Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder is the site where Alex Puccio does Trice (V12) and is perhaps the best-filmed 30 seconds in the movie. Alex is an amazingly gifted climber and her portion of the movie clearly shows this. I would say that overall it was one of my favorite parts of the film.

Not so much with the segment featuring Dave Graham. Dave loves to talk which is great for a change but the climbing itself is not as well shot as the rest of the film. The segment on Elefunk does not compare well with a similar shot seen in Between the Trees. The Island (V15) is sick hard but somehow its appeal is lost on this viewer. The segment seems hasty and we learn next to nothing about the problem itself. Switzerland is better but V11, however beautiful, is not what we want to see Dave climb and V8 at Hueco? Seriously?

Ethan Pringle is on some really good hard trad routes around Boulder and it is here where things really come together for The Players. Great routes, superb camera work, a real standout overall. The Independence Pass segment is really good with a dynamic and scenic route but the Iron Monkey piece is even better with excellent cinematography that really captures the ambiance of the route's location perfectly.

So overall I liked the movie, despite some uneven patches. The geographical diversity is excellent and the filming is at times as good as any I have seen elsewhere. The question that all video producers are going to face at this point is one that Brian might possibly be considering which is what is the future for this kind of production given the widespread availability of free video on the Internet? I hope to get a brief interview together with Brian on this question and others. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Move

The first afternoon out in a long time yesterday and after my usual Flagstaff warmup routine, back to the move. Why is it that bouldering is addictive like this? I have tried the move something like 30-50 times, and am literally only half a millimeter closer to success than when I started. This is a problem that should have gone at least a month ago yet I go back for more self-abasement. Is it time to move on? Probably, but I will be back. Just this one more time, I promise.

Next post I review the Brian Solano movie, called The Players.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

End of semester

I have been seriously limited by end of the semester time pressure. Hoping to get out reviews of Chuck Fryberger's film Pure and Brian Solano's Players, once I receive them. Also trying to decide on Bishop for the break. Hueco is too much of a clusterf**k for a family, I have decided. Anyway more to come shortly.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Losing My Religion

"Is the acorn better than the oak which is its fullness and completion? Is the parent better than the child into whom he has cast his ripened being? Whence then is this worship of the past?"

Ralph Waldo Emerson, from the essay "Self-Reliance"

I have always had a great regard for the past history of climbing, indeed as a boy I absorbed with great enthusiasm the stories of the heroes of climbing, both European and American. A great body of literature was produced in the period that climbing emerged as a sport, encompassing works as diverse as those of Edward Whymper and Paul Pritchard. Among the authors I admired was naturally Pat Ament, who, with remarkable subtlety and insight, could transport the reader into states of mind and being that no previous writers had really explored. The aesthetic experience of simply being in a place and a time that seemed in harmony with the world was a fount of inspiration that he returned to again and again, seeking, it seemed, some resolution to deeper questions.

At times, I am not ashamed to say, I have modeled my own style on his prose, hoping that I might convey the emotions I have felt while experiencing the natural world through climbing. Ament's writing served as the example of how it could be done, the true path toward an understanding of the world. Or at least it did until this week.

Readers might remember my brief review of his new movie, "Disciples of Gill" which he premiered in Boulder last week. I commended the work on many levels and made a plea for others to support this project. The sole comment that could be construed as "negative" was a suggestion that perhaps the thirty minutes of uninterrupted talking-head style interviews could be reconfigured to include some younger voices, reflecting the long-term legacy of Gill to bouldering.

In an optimistic frame of mind, I forwarded my comments to Pat, hopeful that he would recognize my awareness of the great potential this project had. Well my expectations were rudely crushed as he sent back two messages which have genuinely made me rethink what I had ever seen in him. By the way, I have been writing this blog and responding to critics of it and me for years so I am not thin-skinned. I can deal with criticism, in other words.

Here are a few selected passages:

"There are very clear reasons why I didn't include all the modern voices. That will come in the third film and some in the second. I knew some would feel left out and feel they needed to have a voice in things, being so "masterful" as they are. This film had a different purpose, though, and whether you can believe it, no new or modern climber has any better knowledge of "things" than the old timers."

(I should add that no mention was made of a second or third film at the showing. Nor did I make any comparison between old and new.)

"One person told me the film was a spiritual experience to watch. But you're the first to "cut it down to size." And of course that was predictable that a few would say the film need a modern voice. And then when I told people I will be making improvements, I found it interesting how everyone suddenly became critics and threw out their penny's worth from the peanut gallery."

(He did mention it was a work in progress, seeming therefore to invite comment, not merely adulation)

"You didn't seem to get any of the subtleties of the interviews. Well, those are just of(sic) few thoughts, but that you weren't touched and moved the way so many others were probably doesn't surprise me. You come across as though you need to put me down and put me in my place, in order to give yourself that intellectual credibility or something."

(As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I have repeatedly held up examples of Pat's work as important and innovative climbing writing. As for intellectual credibility, that has never been the point of this blog.)

"People with real credibility told me they were in tears at times and deeply moved. They got it. Frankly your comments made it clear to me you didn't get it. You may have been so engrossed in the pure competitive, rock climbing element you missed the real purpose of it. Or so it feels."

(Not the first time I have been told I just didn't get it, probably won't be the last. But the pure competitive rock-climber in me never will, apparently)

"I think you may do as much damage to yourself as to me, as already people disagree with you, and I think people may get the feeling you have some self-aggrandizing motive."

(I may be doing damage to myself but self-aggrandizing? By writing about a movie? The third one, by the way, in the last two or three weeks.)

I emailed him, naturally, and without trying to sound too pathetic or craven, attempted to explain myself, urged him to revisit my comments and reconsider his own. To no avail. Only silence.

I don't post this as a stinging rebuttal. Perhaps it might serve instead as a warning to others. Be careful about your heroes and be careful about your understanding of the past and the people who were there. History is not just another word for reality.

(In another post I will be exploring more deeply exactly this issue of the 60s and 70s and how they have persisted in climbing. For example, Pat Ament has traded consistently on this theme of "The Golden Age" of climbing. I would like to find some voices that present an alternative and then consider what my "generation" can take from it. Mythology and legend have their purposes but sometimes the truth can be more useful and even more beautiful.)