2 April 2012

Breath on hold

Is bouldering the new rock and roll? Well, when a UK bouldering movie celebrates its release by going on tour then it could be heading in that direction. To be fair, the atmosphere at the Depot on Saturday night for the showing of "Life on Hold" was a bit more chilled than your average gig. But the quality of both the filming and climbing definitely reflected the progression of the UK scene.

"Life on Hold" is the new movie from Sheffield based Outcrop Films and, judging by the stunning HD trailers that had been going up, I was expecting good things. After a quick play on the wall testing out some 5.10s (film sponsors) we joined a good sized crowd settling down into the Depot lobby for a short speech by one of the film's stars Dan Varian. Given that the film is pretty short on talking, Dan used the time to pick out some of the themes- in particular the organic nature of its creation, and the highball, ground-up nature of the climbing. One critique I would pick up at this stage was that the following film seemed a bit short on narrative or philosophy, despite the promise of its title- Living for the next hold, or putting social expectations on hold so you can climb? Instead the film focuses on some of the great landscapes that climbing takes you to- beautiful shots of the barren moorland of the Pennines or the brooding hulks of the Cheviots- and, more importantly, on the climbing itself.

Given a cast list that you would expect to see on a podium at a national bouldering competition, the climbing does not disappoint. In fact, it's so consistently of such a high level that it almost pummels you into the ground- most of the problems are in the 7a+ to 8b range. John commented that it was almost a bit depressing seeing people climb things that he would never be able to, though that may have been more sadness that as a die-hard Star Wars fan he would not be able to add 'Return of the Jedi' to his tick list! However, I found that the one of the things the film captured really well was the essence of bouldering that we all share. Problems are seen being worked over and over by friends egging each other on. You never really know who, if anyone, will actually get them. That feeling of perseverance- digging deep, trying again just one more time, tweaking your body positions over and over- really comes across. It's also great to see that climbers at the top of their game go through similar experiences as mere mortals- getting past the crux only to nearly come off on an easy move, or pushing on up only to find yourself in a position of no retreat, and that immense sense of relief and acheivement when you finally top out. They also linger nicely on the top-outs, and the post top-out banter, a moment often lost in bouldering footage when it fades after the crux.

I won't dwell too long on the problems, save to say lots of them are E grade routes stacked out with a gazillion mats underneath (Hard Grit is referenced a few times). This leads to some big big drops, and some big big holding of breath as the tension ramps up. In that moment you really felt like you were there, almost involuntarily holding out your hands to spot them. Seeing their determination and commitment was really inspiring. When I was a young skater my brother and I used to put on a skate video before we went out to get ourselves psyched up, and if you want to get psyched up to go bouldering then this should definitely do the job.
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