October 25, 2008 George Foster

Review: Onsight (Posing Productions)

So a little later than i said here is a review of the new Posing Productions film ‘Onsight’. Now i have no credentials for any of this and just fancy it as a bit of fun to chat about, so you have been warned. First of all is it the new ‘Hard Grit’? Cos lets be honest that’s what every climbing film will be compared to from now until…well…something better comes along i guess. I’ll get to that bombshell a bit later but for better or for worse that’s what i had in my head as i watched ‘Onsight’ for the first time.

I’ve been looking forward to this film ever since i heard about it earlier in the year a) cos i really enjoy trad climbing and am a recent ‘ground-up/on-sight’ convert (see ‘Auto Giro…’ post) and b) cos Al Lee is, in my mind, something of a film-making messiah (regardless of the subject matter)! It would be very easy to simply ask….why haven’t you bought this yet?? Is it cos you’re too busy reading this? Poor excuse my friend, get onto www.posingproductions.com (other sites are available) and purchase the bastard now. If not you’ll regret reading this and then buying it cos there’s doubtless some spoiler action going on in a bit, and i don’t mean the shit you might see down the Falkirk cineplex of an evening.

The film follows the usual suspects of hard UK trad, and some foreign talent thrown in for good measure, around the Kingdom as they try and fall off more scary ‘death’ routes than their mates. I can’t remember who ends up winning but i don’t think that’s the point of the film to be honest. The point is there’s a healthy number of people getting out there trying these things, surviving and laughing about them to make you think there’s a some merit in this on-sight malarky. Yes that’s right, if the title didn’t give you the full picture Al Lee has just spent over a year exclusively filming on-sight attempts, though the odd headpoint (makes you cringe just saying it right? no? good cos there’s value in both….just don’t tell Neil Dickson) has crept in to keep everyone happy. As a side note the footage of Gaz Parry and Jordan Buys headpointing….umm….the arete….sorry couldn’t remember its name at Widdop is actually pretty innovative and it perhaps would have been good to see a fuller edit.

I’ve started to notice that there’s absolutely no structure to this ‘review’ so i’m not gonna try and correct that, sorry, i hope you’ll understand. Bear with me. The footage to open the film of Pete Robins high up on Master’s Edge (a route i’ve wanted to do, well, forever) shares something of that infamous Gaia sequence at the start of ‘Hard Grit’ though in my opinion NOTHING can match the tension of that Jean-Minh Frenchie-French fall. Still though it sets the film up very well and gets you psyched to track down some aliens and fold over some nuts (the metal ones i mean…..unless you’ve had the surgery…..whatever floats your boat) to get on it, or maybe that’s just me? Anyway instead of boring you with a ‘scene-by-scene’ analysis i’ll just highlight what i thought were the best points and, to maintain some equilibrium, the bad points too.

For a start the camera work from Al Lee continues to amaze and impress me, it’s just awesome. Not show-boat stylings like the big-money Yanks over at BigUp but well chosen, understated classy affairs that add an extra ‘cool’ factor. The Strawberries sequences showing Pete Robins and Nico Favaresse giving it some pasty was ace and the best part of the film for me, especially the 10 seconds of super-slow-mo as Pete falls and a cam rips. The music is really good, again well chosen and understated, adding tension where tension is needed. The routes are great, it’s good to be taken to new (to climbing films) venues and see some of the big names falling off some of the big routes. Neil Dickson having a zero-gravity day on The Hollow Man had me clenching as did The man, the legend Dave Birkett on My Piano at Nesscliffe (which incidentally had the quote of the millenium with “[DB]E8 onsight at 40…[Al]And hungover too…[DB]Always works!”). HERO. Likewise i now recognise Johnny Redhead as being something of a true legend and another worthy of HERO status. His philosophical musings on the ‘rules’ of climbing provide the perfect balance to the almost brash ‘on-sight! on-sight! on-sight!’ mentality of some of the new generation interviewed.

Now to the not so good bits…..There was only one point in the whole film where i felt actually engaged with the film in an emotional sort of way, not a gay way that is but a tense ‘uh oh he’s gonna break shit’ kind of way, namely the Neil Dickson ‘Hollow Man’ segment. This is a shame cos personally that’s what i want from a climbing film, a little bit of real drama. That might sound a little bit sick, and i’m not saying i want to see people getting hurt at all, but this was the first film in a while where i thought there’d be some epics and there just didn’t seem to be. Nothing to make you think daaaaaaaammmnn! The interviewing just seemed too cut and dried, the personalities of the climbers didn’t appear to come through and it was as though they were just going through the motions saying things that were either deliberately controversial or what they thought was expected (with the odd exception). Am i wrong there? I’m probably wrong but thats what it seemed.

Going back to the original question: is it the new ‘Hard Grit’? In many ways ‘yes’ but i’ve got to say (and i’m writing this having just watched ‘Hard Grit’ again) overall it just cannot match it. Sure editing and camera techniques have come a LONG way since 1997 and kids are doing crazy things these days but the routes captured on ‘Hard Grit’ STILL, over a decade later, demand MASSAI respect and they’re STILL gonna fuck you up if you fall off. ‘Hard Grit’ simply is a Jedi in cinematic form, every time i watch it i HAVE to climb something. The guys and girls in it are just perfectly presented, their interviews say all that is needed with no loaded questions to get them to spice up the danger they’re in cos it’s already brutally obvious, they don’t come across as arrogant or attention-seeking, they just get on with it and climb hard. In fact it’s good to see them as people, just larking about e.g. Seb Grieve using thermarests to protect the landing on that Roaches E7, Johnny Dawes tiring of being papp’ed and trying to turn the camera off, Rich Ekehead body jamming (way before Justin Timberlake i might add), John Dunne down the pie shop (or did i just expect to see that??). It’s a stunningly simple portrayal of a golden-age in crazy English climbing that appears as though it was filmed almost by accident and it’;s all the better for it. I really wish i could put my finger on just what it is that makes it feet and ankles above the rest but i can’t. It’s great because it just is………sorry Al (picture below copyright Slackjaw/Rich Heap).

So rather than just leave it there i’m gonna list my ‘must-haves’ for climbing films, there’s not many and they’re all dead simple:
1. Something right at the start to blow your mind and set the pace. Be careful though, setting out your stall at the start is very important, the film has got to have more killer than filler so keep some good stuff in reserve and dont waste your best shots for the opening sequences.
2. Engage the audience with some funny/interesting/nuts characters, sit them down and just let them freestyle their talk. It’ll involve sitting through a lot of hours of tape to find some good bits but put in the effort my friend.
3. SICK routes. Goes without saying. Don’t get confused with the thought that SICK must mean hard. It doesn’t always. SICK = awesome, evocative lines, geometry-defying moves and/or presence.
4. Hot chicks in the sun. Hey sex sells alright.
5. Innovative footage that FORCES you to want to go out and climb. You see it so much in other ‘adventure films’ but there’s very few climbing films that make you want to get out there. Okay so it’s generally slower paced and trad doesn’t lend itself to the word ‘fast’ all that much and bouldering can be a bit ‘same-old-same-old’ but where there’s a will etc.

P.S. Also be sure to check out, then buy, ‘Seasons’ by The Collective. I’m not much of a biker, though i did have a pretty rad green and pink number with no seat, one gear and no brakes when i was at uni, but i’ve had the chance to endlessly watch their 2 previous films ‘The Collective’ and ‘Roam’ and this one looks even better! In fact ‘Roam’ is probably one of my all-time favourite films of any genre….make of that what you will. It does what few “adventure sport” (excuse the whack tagline [and subsequent whiteboy ‘ghetto’ slang]) films manage and actually makes a non-*adventure title here* want to get out straight away and get stuck in.

P.P.S. Kendal Film Festival is next week (ignore the date of this post….i started it aaaaaggeeeesss ago!) and i’m excited! ‘Call It What You Want’ premieres Thursday evening but i’d recommend catching it on the big screen on the Saturday (9am i think??). Check out steepmedia.blogspot.com for the trailer and more of Neil Gill’s pics (like the one below). Looks smashing! Jolly good.

P.P.P.S.S.S. etc. Saw Dosage V too…….it’s not bad i guess.

Comment (1)

  1. Totally agree with you that good climbing films need cool chicks in them climbing cool stuff. Definitely. I’m busy thinking about how to fill this massive gap in the market. Will keep you posted!

    Call it what you want was v.g. too. Enjoyed it at Kendal. Tad too long maybe, but still very entertaining. But no chicks šŸ˜‰


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