I remember the excitement I felt when I first got to watch a copy of One Summer, Ben Moon's video homage to bouldering in the Peak. The camera work was poor as was the sound quality and the music was excruciating. However, it felt underground, captured a scene we wanted to be part of and above all faced no competition. Nowadays if we want some poorly shot, badly edited bouldering footage we can just go to the net and soon find some for free download. More importantly, thanks to the emancipation of film media there are also a fair number of decent clips to be found for free download on the 'net as well. Anyone wanting to launch a commercial film on bouldering faces some tough, no cost competition and as such will have to create something pretty unique to make us notoriously impecunious climbers part with our cash.
This then is the problem faced by Shawn Boyle and his Swedish Meatballs DVD, a film about a bouldering road trip through Sweden. Not only is he making a film about what is, for most of us, an unfamiliar area but it also features unfamiliar climbers; principally a Welshman who happens to be 'Sweden's highest ranked climber' according to the blurb. To deal with the climbers first, as unknowns they do not have the authority or star quality of a Sharma or McClure nor do they posses the charisma that Moffatt was able to bring to films. Fortunately interviews with the climbers are kept short and the human interest sections (climber goes to super market, climber goes to buy some coffee etc.) are kept mercifully short. Anyone who's seen a few snowboarding and skiing films will know how tedious it can be watching 'the talent' gurning and making 'devil horn' gestures at the camera from the back of a car as they move between venues. However, if this is your bag, there's a 51 minute added feature entitled “What its like to be on the road?” In fairness I did watch this and there are no devil horns and precious little gurning.
Swedish Meatballs Trailer
All of which leaves us with the climbing and the real star of the show, Sweden's boulders. These certainly look a very enticing, predominately granite, often steep and frequently in beautiful settings. Sadly we don't get to see enough of the later, Alastair Lee's recent Set in Stone is a fine example of how scenery shots can add much to a climbing film without detracting from the actual climbing. To quote Ben Moon from the 1980's “I don't climb to be in nice places, I climb for climbing's sake” but even the most hardcore boulderers I know enjoy the odd bit of dramatic scenery. This, therefore, is a lost opportunity as I'm sure most people interested in bouldering in Sweden would want to see more of the area, that comment could be extended to the bouldering itself, no attempt is made to put the problems in context. I'm left with no clue as to which are the best areas, who the local wads are and which are the most significant problems in the country.
My second criticism is the lack of a narrative to the film. There is no climax to the film, no epic struggle to complete a particular problem no journey's end. This would barely matter if the action up to this point had been spectacular but I was left under whelmed although it must be said that it is well filmed with the high production values that we expect these day but which are not always apparent in other recently bouldering films. However it's big numbers and breath taking falls people want to see (or is that just me?) and with nothing climbed above 8a and precious little high balling, there's little to get excited about.
The best and worst thing I can say about this film is that it does everything I expected of it which makes me think that the real problem may be with the genre than with the film itself. No matter how popular bouldering becomes, for the large part, it remains dull to watch, this is especially the case when dealing with climbers or problems you are not already familiar with to give context to the action. Then again the same could have been said about climbing films 20 years ago and then along came Stone Monkey to show what could be done in the right hands. I don't know what the next step is for bouldering films, that's why I'm sat here criticising rather than doing, but I'd like to think that someone will come along to soon to redefine the genre. In the meantime anyone looking for a bouldering holiday to somewhere different could do worse than check out this DVD.
Read the Rock and Run Review by Mike Binks: blog.rockrun.com
Swedish Meatballs DVD Summary
Tielma Productions Presents A Shawn Boyle Film
Directed, Filmed, Edited and Scored by Shawn Boyle.
Join Dylan Smith and Carl-Ola Bostrom on a tour of Sweden's best blocs. Swedish Meatballs features classic lines and first ascents as Dylan and Kalle spend a month on the road meeting up with the boulderers who shaped the Swedish scene.
Growing up in Wales, Dylan Smith soon tired of sheep and slate and found a different kind of love in Sweden. These days he spends his days playing with plastic and crimping on sharp overhanging granite. Dylan also happens to be Swedens' highest ranked boulderer according to some Sources. Kjugekull Veteran Carl-Ola Bostrom put his life as a student on hold to see if there was anything else worth climbing in Sweden... and he found it, the 'Perfect Boulder'. Now, his unique zen mentality and unquenchable thirst for the Attainable has him searching for the 'Next Perfect Boulder'.
Watch the trailer to another Shawn Boyle Film, Tjugo På Kjuge to see more impressive Scandanavian boulders and bouldering at youtube.com
50 minutes, plus outtakes and an extras section. DVD, ALL REGIONS.
PAL/NTSC: 16:9, Stereo: Filmed in HDV