First: Any review or opinion of media will, by definition, be subjective. For example, some people are into the simple “climbing porn” stuff. It goes well with the bong, I’m told, as one’s IQ plummets into the single digits and the thumping, mesmerizing techno soundtrack begins (which always reminds me that I could be home folding laundry…) and a bunch of shirtless gaylords start screaming in agony as they slap for little holds, over and over and over and over… Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. But the Reel Rock films avoided it. Thank god.
They didn’t go to the other end, either, thank allah, and have those mind-numbingly clichéd scenes, present in too many climbing films, where some chump sits with a furrowed brow and pensive look gazing into the horizon and babbling about “why” and what it all means.
I must add that I wholly respect the creative attempts of those who try to make films of any sort – it’s not easy to do it right (obviously), and I think climbing films are largely in their infancy. Or maybe adolescence. Some breakthrough exceptions exist, and one of them is what I saw at the Reel Rock tour.
By the way, I’m pretty sure that Reel Rock was actually a combination of the newest Big Up production, Progression, and clips from Sender Films’ new series, First Ascent. And the tour might be over by now. Regardless, it was awesome. All of it. I think it’s the best climbing film(s) I’ve seen. Granted, I don’t see many of them because I’d usually rather read a book listen to a podcast, or do something that engages my imagination. But Reel Rock had great stories and great lines from the protagonists, coupled with unbelievable footage. It had a feeling of humanity, not just porn. The content ranged from jaw-dropping human performance, to funny, to emotional, and to stand-up-and-cheer inspiring.
One of the coolest things: I think non-climbers could love this film (I know it’s a combo of films, but hey, I’m on a roll) – it could be a crossover type success for the athletically inclined. Some of the athleticism absolutely blew my mind – talking world-class, Olympic-level athleticism that would leave any viewer slack jawed. I imagine that some viewers, especially non-climbers, might ask “why” during some segments, like the amazing piece on Alex Honnold free-soloing Half Dome, which includes super honest (and hilarious and endearing) words from the young phenom that make abundantly clear that he knows what could happen – and, I’ll give this much away: He had his first-ever soloing freak out up there, nearly losing it. Even the comp-climbing clip fascinated me – I loved the glimpse into a world so different from my own, yet still bound by the commonalities of passion and climbing. The film showed those commonalities in many forms, and throughout engendered the “show don’t tell” storytelling angle that, at least in my mind, too many climbing films miss.
By the end, after all the clips showing the commitment, beauty, joy, and devotion, you don’t need anyone trying to lamely explain “Why.” Sure, some people still won’t get it, but they never would anyway.