Upon finishing watching this film yesterday my wife declared it ‘the best climbing film she has seen to date’. And I’ve ‘made’ her watch quite a few climbing films!
E11 is a 41 minute film following Dave MacLeod’s ascent in April this year of Rhapsody, the UK’s first route graded E11, and a contender for the hardest single pitch trad climb in the world. Dave is hardly unknown in the climbing world. He has been operating at the cutting edge of not only trad climbing, but bouldering and winter climbing too, with a respectable number of top end sport routes thrown in for good measure. So why is it that he is still struggling to make a decent living as a professional climber? The late OTE declared him ‘Britain’s best all round climber’ a few years ago. However, he’s Glaswegian, has never lived in Sheffield or Llanberis, and strangely for somebody so obviously strong, is not a honed, shaved pretty boy, so you’d be forgiven for having not really noticed him before.
Enter ‘hot aches’, a now fully fledged production company based in nearby Edinburgh. Having worked with Dave since the company’s inception back in 2003 it was natural, and fortunate for both that they a) lived so close to each other, and b) have clearly mutually beneficial needs, and c) are very talented at what they each do. Rhapsody is a route Dave has worked on, on and off pretty much since hot aches started, resulting in a film that doesn’t just show a nicely edited sequence of the first ascentionist claiming his prize, but in a fully fledged study documenting every aspect of what it takes to succeed at this level. From the dogged determination, climbing in all weather, the injuries, the diet, the training, the marital stress and sheer obsession is all captured and laid bare. Throw in a hefty number of the biggest and meatiest falls on camera, some snapped rp’s, blood, beer and a quirky rapper and it is quite possibly the perfect recipe for a climbing film.
I’m not going to give much away as it’ll spoil it. Suffice to say that it is a very well put together film depicting a very talented climber on a very hard route. 40 minutes may seem a long time to sit watching a film about just one single pitch route. We were captivated for the whole time. If you are concerned about watching it with non-climbing friends or relatives there’s no need. The human interest in Dave’s wife Claire is strong enough without detracting too much from the main theme. For the really avid fans, and those who’ve watched the main film but can’t get enough of the action there is the ‘Psyche Edit’, a special 17 minute version featuring just the climbing and nothing else! Although this is kind of fun it does lack any sort of narrative and is probably best used to fast forward between the meaty bits.
On the subject of extras there are also 4 short films featuring a couple of boulder problems and a couple of routes. ‘Pressure’ is a Font 8b problem he spent over 100 days working! The short film comprises a sizeable number of attempts and once again captures the process of working out sequences and stringing them together. There is very little slow motion or repeated, blurred slapping of holds that blights most bouldering films, and the sound track even appealed. What was particularly heartening about all of the shorts was the fact that Dave looks like a fairly ordinary guy. As I mentioned, he doesn’t have a torso to embarrass Arnie and doesn’t pout at the camera. Instead he is seen wearing a tubigrip on his elbow and a pair of gaffered up old rock shoes and whenever he talks there’s a shy laugh that makes you think he’s a down to earth bloke. The other three shorts all comprise the actual ascent of the title problem / route (Perfect Crime - font 8b, Hurley Burley - f8b solo and LMens - 8b+). Also on the extras menu are trailers for E11 and Posing Productions’ latest offering, Set In Stone – Profile of a Lakeland Climber (Dave Birkett), and a rather fast moving profile of Dave listing his many achievements. Unfortunately the text in this profile is often a little blurred and disappears before you can read it all. All in all there are 37 minutes of extras.
It wouldn’t be right to finish this review without mentioning MC Hasta the rapper who makes random appearances throughout the film. The opening credit, which appears after a satisfyingly probing length of time hanging on a blank black screen, is accompanied by Hasta’s track Solidara, a quirky, but very effective mix of rap and dramatic classical chords. He then appears alongside a posse of local kids, rapping and spray painting a piece of old ironmongery with ‘E11’ in big white letters. I asked Dave Brown of hot aches what the story was with this guy. He replied that “the singer had seen some of the early footage with graffiti all over the place, and he wanted to come down to the crag one day when we were filming and brought his paint with him! He spray paints 'E11' over some old graffiti on the dock ruins. I guess the idea was to reinforce the urban theme of this very unusual climbing location. It is a very strange crag being close to the town centre and a hang out for kids skiving and local drunks as well as climbers. It is surrounded by industrial wasteland and the rusting relics of once prosperous docks and shipyards.” If you are curious about MC Hasta you should get yourself to the Kendal Film Festival in November where it is hoped that he will perform live along with Chris the DJ, the hot aches sound engineer, at the awards ceremony!
As a DVD the menu is clear and works well and includes subtitles in Spanish, French, German and Italian. The climbing world may not have previously all known who Dave MacLeod was, but they surely soon will. A superb new climbing film that will definitely go down as one of the greats thanks to a quality production team and a unique opportunity to film the first ascent of one of the world’s hardest routes.
It is priced £18.99
Watch the trailer.
Previous films by hot aches: Fools With Tools & All Mixed Up
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