DVD- Call it what you want

Call it what you want... A climbing film... A work of art

Do I just tell you that the film is good? Or will that put you off the review? It absolutely rocks...there I said it.

As the girl paces through the opening shots, I experienced the flick of a subliminal switch, sensing that I must be ready for some very imaginative twists. George Ullrich  is quite clearly a star, but not an easy subject. His young fresh face makes him look endearingly innocent, in fact he kind of looks like he has only just hatched not long since, and has been successfully reared on tiny crimps.

(Female viewers may I suspect, find themselves willing him to step out of their screens so that they might administer tender loving care upon him!)

However as I said, he is not a natural “face- to-camera” sort of a guy. Instead of getting gripped about this the film team simply make it an amusing feature. The more awkward he is the more charming he becomes. Cleaver that. As he attempts to explain himself we watch him nervously fiddling with blades of grass in a field or hunched below bolt-ons in some cellar.

Dave Gill filming George Ullrich on Anabolica 8a, at Campi Qui Puigui, Siurana, Spain
© Dave Gill Collection

George Ullrich slacklining 20m up at Kendal Wall
© Mick Ryan
Throughout the climbing footage he demonstrates a lovely understated flair and balls out drive, which somehow demystifies things, drawing the viewer closer. There are no painful chest beating utterances at the top-outs, just an occasional grin at the camera as though he is bemused by the attention. The graphics and the music are quite uncharacteristically soft for this type of film, and it works very well. This gentle vibe is furthered by the narrator, adding subtle warmth as she introduces George's exploits.

The concept of following a “year in the life” of one climber works well I think, as it gives you a good rationale for the inclusion of achievements, epics and indeed anything of interest in-between. And so we are off on a tour of Peak and Lakeland horrors, some climbed fairly effortlessly, and some not so. The possibility that something might not go smoothly allows viewers to share a little of the unease (even if we cannot share the e-grade), as our hero embarks on each new quest. Here some of his voice-overs suggest a marvellous “get on with it” approach. His description of antics on the  bold De Quincey in Borrowdale being a case in point-genuinely hilarious.

We are hauled off to the USA were George continues to climb in a thought provoking way. Again despite his evident talent we are not guaranteed to see him piss up everything in sight, instead he proceeds with the same passion whilst accepting some occasional, interesting setbacks. He does not always manage to do the start of a route, or the finish, in exactly the way he had anticipated. But he is undeterred, and one is left with the sense that he is getting more satisfaction from the rock than from the hype.

Throughout these events George challenges some of the narrower rules within climbing and this is probably why the film moves to explain in layman's terms, the nature of climbing ethics. Now I didn't feel that they necessarily needed to grasp this particular nettle-but they did.

 Having gone for it - nobody will be patronised, nobody will be bored. A series of guest speakers are roped in, each captured perfectly, and talking from a monochrome past they make their often very quotable points and disappear - Dave McLeod is succinct, Tim Emmett funny, and Dave Birket - surely the driest man in British climbing comes up with gem after gem. Ron Kauk and John Bachar put George's overseas efforts into perspective their interviews being particularly well edited.

Film cannot live by footage alone. A mountain of creative thought and pure cunning have gone into this effort, the editing is not there to polish the project but rather to construct it into a cohesive work of art. It is crammed with the strangest, quirkiest little moments. Close-ups of rock, shots through rain-streaked car windows, they come and go again before you have really noticed them. But you are drawn in- your there.

Now then, judge it how you may- if I had one criticism of the film in general.....I'd tell me.

Call it what you want
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