Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Review of Western Gold

The weather reports have failed us lately.  We've ended up at the wrong places on the wrong days, and I personally don't have much new climbing to report on from the last couple weekends.  But I have enjoyed watching Western Gold a few times, and I'd like to share my thoughts about it.

Western Gold showcases high and difficult bouldering around Leavenworth, Castle Rocks, Red Rocks, Cody, and Squamish.  A full hour and a half of primarily climbing, with a minimum of story, and some great time lapsed landscapes.  The type of film that often gets denigrated as "bouldering porn."  But I love this film, and feel it's one of the best that I've seen.  There are quite a few reasons that it has won me over.

The most appealing aspect for me is the film's authenticity.  It's a bouldering film, made by a dedicated boulderer, for other dedicated boulderers that doesn't exaggerate anything in order to get a bigger reaction, or appeal to a wider audience.  So it feels very honest.

Another aspect that lends integrity to the film is how often local climbers and developers are showcased.  The boulderers in the film are some of the people you might run into if you visit these areas.  It's nice to see local boulderers documented, in addition to their areas and problems.  It's a type of climbing journalism.  And female climbers are well represented, but not conspicuously so.

The film is also beautiful and artistic.  The natural aesthetics of the problems and their surroundings is expressed with angles and camera movement which convey depth to the scenes.  The entire film has been meticulously crafted with an attention to detail unmatched in other bouldering films.  The flavors of commentary, scenery, climbing, and humor are balanced without any of it feeling gratuitous.  The music fits the tone of climbing, is often timed to the visuals, and isn't distracting.  Almost all bouldering films have at least one song, scene, or story that I find distracting or annoying, but this one doesn't.  It renews my hope for the genre.

And finally, I must admit that it's the content that impresses me the most.  There are two reasons I really like the areas that the movie covers.  The first is that they're fresh.  At this point, I've seen Hueco, and South Africa, and Font, and Switzerland, and Colorado covered in so many bouldering films that I'm losing interest.  If a problem has been well documented, in a professional video already, I'm generally not interested in watching it get climbed again.  For most areas, problems, and climbers in Western Gold, this is the first time they've been filmed.  But the film is also relevant to me, because the areas and climbers are familiar.  I've visited all the areas in the film, other than Idaho, within the last year, and have even met a few of the climbers.  A coincidence that makes me somewhat biased towards the film.

On the surface this film is very similar to other bouldering films.  It's mostly just people climbing boulders.  To truly appreciate a bouldering film takes some effort, and to me, it feels like the people who put bouldering films down aren't able to, or aren't willing to make that effort.  If you aren't an experienced boulderer, you won't be able to know what a problem feels like by watching someone climb it.  If you are an experienced boulderer, you can feel the problems as you watch them, when you try to do it.  If you put yourself into the climbing shoes of the ascensionist, you can get a sense of how committing the problem is, how the problem flows, and what the holds actually feel like.  If you've developed problems, you can get a sense of the effort that went into finding, cleaning, and making the first ascents of all the magnificent lines.  And if you've ever tried to make bouldering media it is immediately clear how much effort, time, and talent Alex Savage has put into making this film.  As you watch Western Gold, look deeper, and you'll enjoy it all the more.


Peter Beal said...

Great film and great review. I will write my own shortly!

Lloyd Family said...

Thanks Peter, I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on the film.