Saturday, 9 April 2011

Why Rock Climbing Films Are Like Desert Island Discs

'By the sleepy lagoon' (Eric Coates), the theme music to Desert Island Discs, why not enjoy this as you read.

A student I taught at the Adventure Film Academy last year recently sent me a link to a climbing film he had completed and asked for my opinion. The piece was well shot and edited yet it failed to move me as a film. I was considering why that was when I came up with the idea for this blog.
To me, the most important thing about film is emotion. As a filmmaker my job is to create films that generate emotion in the audience. In my opinion, for a film to be truly great it has to make you laugh and make you cry. In last seven years of attending mountain film festivals there have been only a few which have achieved this benchmark (e.g. Alone Across Australia, 20 Seconds of Joy, Solo: Lost at Sea, The Endless Knot, Touching the Void).

I have to admit that I have yet to make such a film. However, I feel sure I have created films that have generated emotion in audiences. As I continue to learn my craft I hope that I too can create a work that will generate a standing ovation from a tearful audience.
The student’s film in question showed a climber making the first ascent of a route. When the climber topped out I felt no emotion. Why? Because I knew nothing about the climber or what this climb meant to him. I had watched him climb from the bottom to the top, but I had no connection with him.
Andy Kirkpatrick, “Climbing is like masturbation…”
I think rock climbing films differ from say skiing films or skateboarding films because for the most part climbing is fairly dull to watch! Andy Kirkpatrick hits the nail on the head when he says, “Climbing is like masturbation… it’s fun when you’re doing it, but no one else wants to hear about it!”
Don’t get me wrong, I love climbing films and I think film is great medium for telling stories about rock climbing and mountaineering. But what makes climbing films great and interesting is not the climbing action, but the climbers themselves.
The reason Desert Island Discs is the longest-running factual programme in the history of radio is not because of the music it plays, but because the audience learns something about the guest. The show is about the person not the music, and in climbing films the film is about the climber, not the climbing.


Anonymous said...

emotional content is why Johnny Dawes 'Stone Monkey' continues to set the bar for climbing films. It's jam packed with raw emotion, bold climbing and respect to the vanguard of modern British sticky boot climbing.

Hotaches Productions said...

Completely agree. I love Stone Monkey, it's my favorite climbing film.

Anonymous said...

If the film is about the climber, then I agree, the film is unlikely to move the viewer if it just documents their routes.

But I think it's possible to stir the viewers emotions in other ways too.

Selection of backing music - most hollywood blockbusters are nothing without the music augmenting the action.

Location - Fred's testpiece might be E15, but it's in a sh!t hole quarry in Leicestershire. It's less likely to stir a viewers emotions than a new E3 in some eye-achingly beautiful location somewhere else. A film that can repeatedly capture that feeling you have when you first look into the Verdon, or up at El Cap...

Action - a continual roller-coaster of jaw-droppingly dangerous routes being executed will also tug at the emotions. If each is done by a different climber, do you need to know anything about the climber to still be impressed by the feat \ climb? Probably not.

In terms of the climbers - is the climbing scene still producing great characters worthy of examination beyond their climbing? Have the wild days, when the climbing fraternity was definitely a sub-culture, gone, to be replaced by a wave of sanitary climbers, raised and trained in clean wood and plastic palaces? Is there any merit in digging in to the psyche of these people - for whom this is just a sport, and they have no sense of the history behind them.

Maybe, with my advancing years, I've become another Ken Wilson..