The latest offering from HotAches was perhaps a little handicapped before I sat down to watch it, having recently drooled over the Hi-Def wonder and high-production values of Progression by BigUp. Offering instead a more down-to-earth, straight forward, dare I say “British” product.
The DVD is split into 4 individual short-films, as well as extras. As they're filmed and credited as individual films, I'll review them as such.
1: Slate Monkeys
The first featurette has Matt Segal, Johnny Dawes and Hazel Findlay attempting the slate sport-route “Gin Palace” (7c). The pretext of this sounds good: 3 different climbers, 3 different approaches – whose will work? Sadly, for me this didn't really come across. Instead we have 3, admittedly highly likeable people, trying a tricky route, getting shut down but (unsurprisingly) all succeeding eventually (To maintain the mystery, I won't say who ticks it first). Perhaps expert climbers can analyze the players different methods, I however was hoping for a more hand-held talk-through – e.g. Matt tried it this way, Johnny this way, Hazel that way, here's why it did/didn't work.
Instead, what we have is 3 climbers working a route, some back-scratching, some piss-taking – much like most of us experience whenever we climb with our mates (albeit at lower grades in my case).
Next up is Kevin Shields – the “one handed climber”. This piece is more about the climber than the climbing, and explores Kevin's psyche, motivations and frustrations with climbing, including the drive to solo particularly hard routes. At times, this was incredible, at others uncomfortable. Whilst undoubtedly a very driven guy, his frustration and anger are highly tangible in many places. Inspirational in 2 ways for me – both in terms of an “overcoming adversary” vibe, but also as a fantastic way of highlighting the technique involved in high-grade slabs. Some people I watched it with found Kevin a little too abrasive, others were in awe – either way, his accomplishments and motivation are astounding. The majority of the section is trad/solo climbing, but there's also a segment on a particularly nail-biting aid-solo route using a prosthetic axe – this provides for me the most intense section of the entire DVD, even more so than the free-solos of the trad routes.
The full solo of Firestone (E7) is a standalone extra on the DVD as well as being viewable on-line. Very intense and one of the highlights of the DVD.
3: Little Big Walling in Madagascar
Reputedly one of the hardest free-solos in the world, the West Face of Karimbony is the setting for the third short film. Again, much as with Slate Monkeys, this came across more as a road-trip movie of friends than a particular climbing movie, and follows James McHaffie, Jack Gerald and Dave Pickford on the epic route “Tough Enough?” as well as new route “Yellow Fever” (including an excellent pitch of root – as opposed to “route” - climbing) . The scenery and wildlife are gorgeous, the climbers likeable, but for a climbing film – it didn't really motivate or inspire me, aside from wanting to go to Madagascar (which I wanted to do anyway, now even more so). I'm always in awe of anyone who goes big-walling, even more so at on pitches around 8c – but it wasn't an edge-of-the-seat experience that had you sighing with relief / screaming with frustration as they work the routes.
4. Hey Presto!
Off to Canada this time with Sonnie Trotter and “World Class Belayer” Cory Richards. The goal of this is to trad-climb the Squamish sport-route “Presto”. This is probably the Marmite equivalent of climbing films. Cory Richards is either a comedy genius on par with Ricky Gervais for naturalistic comedic acting, or he's way too obsessed with ropes. I took it as the former, and as such this made for an entertaining piece, with some of the best climbing footage of the DVD, as well as genuine funny/tense moments. Squamish looks ace, and the routes look good. It also captures well the routine of prepping for climbing at your limit and (possibly) the importance of the belayer.
If on the otherhand Cory isn't acting and really is that devoted to belaying – he scares me.
Aside from the Firestone solo footage, the other extras are just trailers for the other HotAches films – no outtakes or extended footage here. A little weak, but they're only extras so this isn't really a major downside.
Overall – the films are well shot, the soundtracks are good and the climbs and climbers are very video-friendly. Whilst it has nothing majorly wrong with it (aside possibly from Cory Richards), it equally doesn't have anything that makes it stand out from the rest. The exception being the Kevin Shields footage which is worth purchasing the DVD for on its own.
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