One Summer: Bouldering in the Peak with Ben Moon. Ben Moon and Ben Pritchard. Sheffield Independent Film, Ltd., 1994. Video, 50 minutes. $19.95.
Three Weeks & a Day, Starring Dale Goddard and Boone Speed. Redpoint Films, 1995. Video, 70 minutes. $29.95.
Climbing films have typically fallen into three genres: inspirational, narrative, and instructive. Here we have an example of the first two, both focusing on hard rock climbing: either bolt-protected or bouldering.
For anyone tired of the typical rock video-esque inspirational film — a montage of dozens of climbers, widely scattered areas, grinding music, professional camerawork, and deification of our tanned, thickly muscled heroes boldly clipping bolts — the arrival of One Summer represents a welcome respite. Here we have Ben Moon and a handful of other Brits bouldering in a half-dozen spots in the Peak District of Great Britain. Funky music, words of encouragement, and deleted expletives provide the aural accompaniment to skinny, pale gentlemen gliding across, up, and often off various gritty boulders. While this presents a refreshing change, it also remains the video’s weak point: it is too mellow, in part because, though the problems range upward to 8b on the Fountainbleau scale (V12 American), Moon and Jerry Moffatt make them look easy. In addition, Ben Pritchard’s relatively inexpert camera work and equipment give undoubtedly steep rock faces and technical moves a flat look. However, the scenes of Moon and Moffatt training on a campus board to a background jack hammer depict and define contact strength well enough to leave the power-hungry salivating. Overall, One Summer is worth seeing, if just to hear Moffatt say in a hammishly tortured accent, “Nice one, Ben! You’re a strong man!”
Imagine if you and four climbing friends were given 22 days to climb, a couple of video cameras, and an RV. Now, if you also imagine that you climb 5.13+, you will have Three Weeks & a Day, one of the first sport climbing films with a narrative, a genre that typically has featured long rock climbs or alpine climbs. This vacuum makes sense, considering that a sport climbing narrative would probably feature a 60-foot climb with the plot, “tried it, sent it.” Fortunately, Redpoint Film’s Three Weeks & a Day goes far beyond this simple formula. The film opens with a phone tag session before the team of Mike Call, Dale Goddard, Sheri Rich, Boone Speed, and David Thompson can hit the road — in a vehicle that appears older than any of them — to explore a variety of new or underexposed climbing areas (Joe’s Valley, Maple Canyon, and the Virgin River Gorge rather than Rifle or American Fork), before they arrive at the Enchanted Tower in New Mexico. Here is the supposed climax of the film, when Goddard and Speed attempt to redpoint a new 5.13d/. 14a, Child of Light. Yet Goddard’s filmed ascent appears mundane next to the drama of the more charismatic Speed’s failure, a failure that accelerates the pulse better than anything else in the film. And these climbing scenes in particular pale against the film’s true high points, which lie in capturing the essence of a road trip: miles of blank highway, conversations between friends, car trouble, bad weather. A great soundtrack supplements the film with crashing alternative songs accompanying the climbing footage and driving scenes coupled with guitar riffs heavily indebted to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Aside from a few annoyances — a tendency to dub over footage of one person climbing with the others discussing him or her in the third person (in a style straight from MTV’s Real World), some too frequent scene changes, and failed attempts at artistic black and white filming, Three Weeks & a Day really shines as an evening’s entertainment for the homebound climber.