Life on Hold (film)
By Nick Brown and Richard Sharpe (Outcrop Films, 2012, www.outcropfilms.com, HD download £10, HD download and DVD package £23.99)
The best climbing films get you so psyched you can’t wait to pull down; even if it is just a fingerboard session on a dirty, grey Melbourne afternoon. The new bouldering flick, Life on Hold, is just such a film. Although to call it a bouldering film is not strictly accurate as a lot of the climbing blurs the lines between soloing and bouldering, and many of the lines featured have previously been considered routes.
Climbing films usually fall into two genres: those that are built around a strong central narrative and tell a story, and those that we at VL lovingly dub ‘climbing porn’. Life on Hold, definitely falls into the latter category, although it does have a loose theme – the current movement in the UK to climb shorter routes, particularly grit routes, ground-up with bouldering mats.
The film’s two main stars are the leading proponents of this style in the UK, Dan Varian and Ned Feehally (who are also behind the legendary Beastmaker fingerboards). But a number of other strong climbers also feature, including Micky Page (who climbs like he might be weightless), Italian star, Michele Caminati, our own Chris Webb-Parsons and a host of others, including Shauna Coxsey, Katy Whittaker, David Mason, Alex Puccio, Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, Jon Partridge, Martin Smith and Ryan Pasquill.
The film opens with Feehally making an ascent of Ron Fawcett’s classic highball Careless Torque (V11), then segues into more hard but low boulders, all nicely shot in golden light that almost makes it seem like the UK must be perpetually bathed in this hue rather than rain and fog. But for me, the film really kicks into gear the moment Dan Varian steps off the ground and stabs his way desperately up a series of miniscule pockets on the mega-highball, the Prow (8a/V12), at Kyloe on Woods, committing through the crux before having a bit of a ‘wobbly moment’ on the sloping, rather damp-looking top-out. From here on in Life on Hold has you on the edge of your seat with one hard, terrifying-looking highball after another.
A common criticism of bouldering films – usually from inveterate rope climbers who struggle to pull their arse off the ground on any boulder – is that while they show hard climbing, they aren’t exactly exciting. Life on Hold definitely breaks this mould. I dare any climber watching Ryan Pasquill as he tries to commit to a hold going ground-up on Return of the Jedi (7c+/V10), muttering in his thick Yorkshire, “I cannae do it man”, to say it isn’t exciting.
The film is beautifully shot, capturing the the action crisply and well, from the sheer physical difficulty of something like Cypher (8b/V13) to the committing nature of one of the film’s highest lines, Samson (8a/V12). Inserted in between the climbing action are short, supremely evocative time-lapses, which show the incredible beauty of the Peak landscape, from smoky sunsets to winter scenes – capturing an aspect of being outdoors that many bouldering (and climbing) films miss.
I have a few criticisms. One obvious thing missing was sped up footage of driving to the crag, which I had assumed was mandatory for every bouldering film post-The Real Thing. Other than this major disappointment, for me the weakest part of the film was the interviews, mainly because the subjects seemed very awkward in front of the camera. I also lost track of who was doing the voice overs in the second half. But it didn’t really matter, because this film is about the visuals: the desperate high problems; Varian’s wild overbite as he bites down on another crimp; Feehaly’s almost unflappable calm above distant mats on the Promise; Caminati’s power and persistence; Page pushing up into the most unlikely of underclings on High Fidelity (8b/V13). It was also great to see some strong women in action, I particularly enjoyed Shauna Coxsey’s ascent of Zooyork (8a/V11) – it’s always cool seeing someone giving it everything.
Some films you will watch once and never return to. Life on Hold is one of those films most climbers will return to again and again to recharge the psych; I have already watched it twice.