Instead of the plan being dismissed when sober…or refined to something less intimidating, the two protagonists, Neil Bentley and Rich Heap, embark on a regime which Heap states at the start of the film is “to be the fittest I’ve ever been”.
Blood, Sweat & Bagels is produced by the same team as the ground-breaking Hard Grit (Rich Heap was one of the producers) and thus a high standard is set from the start as the film follows the two as they embark on their quest to climb Salathe.
The film is beautifully shot, from the simple hand held cameras on the soaring edges of El Cap to the fantastic angles that the support crew get as the two make their way up the wall. El Cap is huge!! At 3,000ft high, this is no Gritstone edge and thus the amount of skill and work involved to rig for the necessary shots and angles must be applauded and congratulated.
Speaking of Gritstone, both Heap & Bentley are masters of the medium (Neil Bentley having climbed Equilibrium, the first E10), but Yosemite Granite and El Cap are just a little bit higher than Stanage. The first stage of the film follows the two as they adapt to the rock, the length and the exposure of big wall climbing. They only have 6 weeks to learn the skills necessary to tackle one of the most imposing climbs in the valley and it’s not plain sailing for the two. After 2 weeks, the strain is beginning to show as their bodies (both inside & out) begin to break down with Bentley getting a nasty infection which puts him out of action (and wallet – American hospitals are not the NHS) for a few days.
After 4 weeks in the valley, it’s time to get on the route…and on the first day with temps nearing 30c and the granite feeling like glass they end up getting benighted - not the greatest of starts. After packing their haulbags with 100kgs of food, water and gear, they begin up the route, planning for 5 days on the 'big stone'. The bagels of the title comes from the 48(!) bagels they bring as their staple diet.
As they progress up the wall, the viewer gets the full feeling of the hard work, commitment and pure pain that comes with climbing a big wall. Bentley sums up climbing El Cap as “5% climbing, 95% hard work” and as their progress falls behind schedule the strain begins to show between the 2 climbers.
One of the highlights of the film is the communication and humour between the two, the constant banter being caught by excellent soundwork and filming that really makes the difference in these types of climbing films.
As the climbing and hauling batters the two climbers the film shows that on a big wall the simplest pleasures (jellyfish sweets) are the most savoured. The film excels on the personal interplay and the initial focus of the film of climbing a route on El Cap changes to the effect of climbing El Cap has on two climbers. The abuse the body takes, the energy reserves down to nothing, the uncomfortable sleeps on crowded ledges and the running out of food and water become the focus as the two inch their way the wall.
Blood, Sweat & Bagels is not a film about hard climbing but a story of two climbers stubbornly forcing their way up one of the hardest routes in America.
The overall film is excellent and it’s no surprise that the film won numerous international awards on first release. Indeed the film was shown on C4. Though the entire film only focuses on the two climbers, the film never bores. The filming of an El Cap route is nearly as painstaking as the climbing and so the film & sound work must be highlighted as a major strength of this film.
Summary: A great watch and one to add to any climbers library. If you want to climb a big wall, watch this first as it may just change your mind – stylish, comfortable and straight forward it certainly is not
45 mins of unused scenes from both the UK and the US are an excellent addition to the film, showing the amount of training & logistics involved.
Splinter: Malcolm Smith climbs the hardest (plastic) boulder problem in the UK – situated in the School Room, Sheffield. Sick!
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