Thursday, 21 July 2011

Rock climbing films review: The Schengen Files and The Swiss Account

I have watched two new climbing films of late. To be more specific, bouldering films. The majority of my climbing tends to be focussed on the speciality of bouldering so I was keen to see them both and the following is my mini-review. I wanted to avoid comparing and contrasting so I will endeavour to write about them separately. So, without further adieu...

The Schengen Files

This is the first paid-for climbing film from the neo bouldering master that is Paul Robinson. Immediately of note about this movie, if only because it's the first thing you notice, before you even get around to watching it, is that it's only 21 minutes in length. And you pay $6.99 for those 21 minutes - roughly £4. So the golden question would be, is it worth it? And yes, would be the short answer. And the long answer:

The content of the movie is slick and well put together. Not to mention that, in those 21 minutes, there are an unprecedented amount of hard sends, with V11 being the "easiest" (classic Fontainebleau problem "Karma"), ranging up to the lofty heights of hard V15 (the Dave Graham testpiece "The Story of 2 Worlds".) Content will always make for an interesting watch. But the way the footage has been put together gives it that extra edge. There is some beautiful cinematography of gorgeous scenery, sumptuous panning shots, and excellent action scenes. The quality of the climbing footage can't be in dispute. And the climbing is paired with an excellent soundtrack (the last song being a Ha! Yes remix of Notorious B.I.G. and The xx - brilliant!).

However, I do have one issue with the film, and it comes back to my original point, the length. Whilst yes, I do believe £4 is a fair price to pay, it left me wanting more. I would quite happily of paid £20 for a film of the same quality but three times the length. I wanted more moderate problems, more hard sends (and there were more on Paul's trip), more of Switzerland, more of the rock climbing lifestyle, more interview footage with Paul. It was all over too fast.

So in summary: get it, watch it, but remember it's only short and try not to be too disappointed when it's over.

The Swiss Account

In complete contrast, here is a feature length film (well, 57 minutes... nearly feature length) that is completely free. The Swiss Account is a film about an expedition undertaken by Jon Glassberg, Carlo Traversi and Connor Griffith. And to that extent it works really well - showing all sides of the rock climbing trip: the bouldering, the relaxing, the rest days, the traveling. It certainly made me nostalgic for my previous expeditions and excited for those to come. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed watching it.

Firstly, the content, with regards to the boulders sent, incorporates the full range, from V4 to V14. All three protagonists are undoubtably strong climbers, with Carlo at the head of the group, making easy work of The Dagger (V14) (the stand up version of The Story of 2 Worlds) in Switzerland. There are a lot of sends in this film. It whips through them at lightening pace. Pausing for breath at a few interludes of evening cookery, castle visits and driving around (including being fined 640 Swiss francs for speeding, with very funny commentary from Jon and Connor, as Carlo attempts to negotiate with the police).

It was great to see appearances from rock climbing glitterati: Adam Ondra, Paul Robinson, Alex Puccio, and Dai Koyamada. Although, unfortunately, we see very few sends from them; Adam squealing at the wall in frustration is all we get. But it still adds to a sense of community among the world's best boulderers. And the banter between Jon, Carlo and Connor makes for an interesting, immersive watch, as you can clearly see they're all good friends. 

But, the key issue I have with this film is that some of the footage, whilst well edited together, seems a little amateurish at points. For example, when Carlo sends The Dagger, his feet are obscured by a tree for most of the climb, and the camera remains static. That is the case for a lot of the climbing footage, with a single camera remaining in a static position. The odd flash to a hand placement does occur, but with climbing film standards quickly increasing, a lot of the shots in The Swiss Account are looking a little old school.

But, in summary, that's definitely not to say it isn't worth watching, because it most certainly is (although, if you're not a dubstep fan, I suggest watching on mute). The film captures the rock climbing trip well and it made me excited for my next.