Free Solo 7/10, some unsorted random thoughts.
Free Solo must be the first climbing movie I've seen since Jean-Paul Janssen's extraordinary films about Edlinger that has used Foley artists to recreate the sounds of climbing. As it is well known that an iPhone-movie with high-quality sound looks
better than anything captured with a real film camera but with cheap mikes, or – worse – sound from location, Free Solo looks incomparable better than almost all previous climbing films. Well planned shots from exposed pitches in Yosemite helps of course, but that's nothing we have not seen before.
The cinematography alone is neither enough to hold my, nor (I suspect) the general audience attention for the duration of the film. Instead the film was held together by the strength of character of the protagonist (Alex) and his sidekick (Tommy – who seems to be the only fully sane person depicted) in this fairly simple rendition of Overcoming the Monster
. In the end the Monster is indeed defeated, to sweeping music. We are led to believe that this is a good thing – even if the protagonist himself seems to be more worried about failing in front of the camera than falling to his actual death.
The movie is clearly not a documentary about Free Soloing the normal route on El Capitan — but rather about how the protagonist sets out to defeat the mighty Capitan. Before seeing the film, I thought I wanted to see the former film, but judging by how successful the story-telling was and how unsuccessful American film-makers usually are at putting sporting achievement into context I am happy that it was the latter.
All of the climbing footage — of which they must have had tons, considering that they showed just a few seconds of a solo of Rivieres Poupre! — is made to serve the story. Almost all of it works seamlessly, and even if I'm sure that most climbers found it uncomfortably cheesy when Tommy Caldwell pretended to slip off the boulder problem pitch I suspect it was very effective on the general audience to hammer home the point that the crux is difficult and insecure.
How you feel about the film has probably a lot to do with how you feel about free soloing. I am totally fine with free soloing, and it was indeed Janssen's La Vie au bout des doigts
that made me want to be a rock climber (at that time there was not a great deal of climbing in Sweden, and none where I lived), and I personally think freesoloing is one of the healthiest things people who need extreme amount of sensory input can do. Some people are not fine with free soloing, and they will not like this movie as it will clearly make more people want to free solo.
As it was for Beowulf, I am sure Alex will face even stronger monsters in the future.