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Committed is the latest film by the makers of E11 – Hot Aches Productions. It sets out to capture on film a year in traditional British climbing. The film features a selection of the best climbers operating in the UK, from the seemingly omnipotent Dave MacLeod, to the understated James Pearson. There are also climbers who are less well known, from Kevin Shields, whose boldness is fired, rather than tempered, by his physical disability, to Jude Spancken, who quietly goes about her business on-sighting some classic hard trad test pieces.
It's a really enjoyable film, portraying the full spectrum of British climbing, from mountain crags and sea cliffs to gritstone. The thread that ties it all together is just how personal each character's drive and motivation is. And how frustrating climbing in the UK can be when you are battling against the weather and conditions. For Spancken it is “more about the climbing, being on the rock than finishing it” whereas for Macleod, you get a sense that the enjoyment comes with relief, immediately after he's ticked yet another E8 or E9.
For me the highlights of the film are Australian, Ben Cossey making a gritstone E8 look like a V Diff. His playful humming of “It's alright baby blue” and giggling on the final move of Simba's Pride (E8) is somewhat unsettling and echoes Seb Grieve on Meshuga in Slackjaw's, seminal Hard Grit. The first ascent of The Promise (E10) says as much about James Pearson's relationship with his girlfriend, as how desperately hard the route is. This is refreshing and dispels any notion that climbing hard and bold routes is a macho enterprise.
For those of a trainspotting disposition, it's interesting to compare both MacLeod's and Pearson's tactics headpointing Trauma – Leo Holding's E9 on Dinas Mot (now E8). MacLeod chooses to place a higher, crucial wire before down climbing, whereas Pearson puts this in as he leads on through. MacLeod looks tired on his lead and it's one of the few times when you see him falter. I couldn't help thinking “Ah, he is human after all!”
It's not a MacLeod versus Pearson film though. Some of the most palm-sweating footage for me was of Niall McNair and Dan McManus climbing a new route on Pabbay ground up. This was a line that I had looked at a few weeks previously when I had been on the island, so it was interesting to climb it vicariously, and be thankful that I wasn't leading the terrifyingly loose final pitch. Dan's whimpering “Oh my God” at the top is not the only very harrowing moment in the film, nor the only time one of the protagonists is caught talking themselves through the moves and to safety. MacLeod, pressured by poor weather and fading light tops out Blind Vision (E10) in the dark. The realisation of how fine a line he is drawing can be seen in his eyes as he reaches the top. He admits quite simply “That was scary as f*ck.” And Katherine Schirrmacher, on her lead of the tenuous Balance it Is (E7) at Burbage, whispers over and over to herself “Come on just do it.”
Ed Douglas was chosen to narrate Committed and again, there were echoes of a previous climbing film – Gogarth. He concludes that British trad is alive and well and that standards continue to be pushed. It's a shame though that the film does not feature more on-sight climbing. Whilst it does manage to convey the very 'Britishness' of trad climbing, for me, the most inspiring footage is of McNair and McManus, Adam Long and Spancken, anticipating the unknown and moving fluidly over the rock. Just climbing, like most of us do, but very, very well. Of course this type of footage is very difficult to get and overall, the Hot Aches crew have managed to bring together a staggering breadth of characters and climbs.
Finally, the extras section features a really great little film with “Keen Youth”, James Pearson, at home with his mum and Dad. His parents' reflections on their sons' early penchant for climbing “He would climb up and wee on the kitchen table,” spliced with camcorder footage of a five year old James, is charming and probably worth the £20 price tag of itself!
Committed: A year at the cutting edge of hardcore trad climbing. Featuring Britain's best rock climbers, plus top overseas visitors, Committed packs in over 200 'E' points of action: The hardest and most dangerous ascents that have been grabbing the climbing headlines everywhere.
It examines the diversity of climbing style and location that together, make the British Trad scene unique and respected around the world.
The featured climbs include numerous hard first ascents, audacious repeats and bold solos .
From the sea cliffs of Scotland, to the gritstone test pieces of Enlgand, to the mountains in Ireland and Wales...
Running Time: 78 mins
Some of the highlights include:
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Tom Briggs: