Image for - Redemption


DirectorPaul Diffley and Chris Prescott
Producer Hot Aches
Reviewed byEd Douglas
DateFriday, 5 December 2014
Rating 4 out of 5


Time seems to me to be the secret ingredient to Paul Diffley’s filmmaking. It’s what lies behind the great strength of Hot Aches’ productions – storytelling. We change as we age, gain perspective on past glories and acknowledge our mistakes. Redemption is no exception as it follows the arc of James Pearson’s climbing career.
Archive footage shows him as a feisty nipper swinging from a climbing frame, looking like a born climber before he’d touched rock. He was part of the generation that emerged following Slackjaw’s landmark production Hard Grit and was soon equalling and then surpassing the achievements of its stars. His fast repeat of Equilibrium, also caught on camera, as a very young-looking nineteen-year-old heralded a huge new talent.
What struck me watching the footage of what was by his own admission a sketchy ascent was how raw his technique was back then. Here is a boy climbing on ambition, apparently fearless, utterly determined. He wants it. And he says he wants the trimmings that come with success, especially sponsorship. As the grades bump rapidly upwards, like an overfilled balloon, we see the logos on his clothing also inflate. We catch glimpses of Pearson being congratulated by his entourage – filmmakers, mates and girlfriend – and anticipate the fall.
Pearson’s bubble was finally pricked by an act of wholly forgivable hubris that was leapt on by forum warriors and changed the course of his career. Awarding his new route The Walk of Life at Dyer’s Lookout the unprecedented grade of E12, he then looked on as Dave MacLeod repeated it with comparative ease and then cut the grade to E9. Pearson’s casual dismissal of MacLeod’s route Rhapsody, the first E11, suddenly looked like arrogance, and the attendant hostility seems to have jolted Pearson off the tracks. He fled abroad and discovered there was more to climbing – and life – than the brittle reputation he’d built for himself.
Redemption is a cleverer title that it looks, because Pearson’s real journey home comes not with his ascent of Rhapsody but in his relationship with French superstar Caroline Ciavaldini. Her presence in the film lifts Pearson’s story out of its fretful, self-deluding maleness into something more down-to-earth and likeable with a well-timed kick up his arse. She tells him some home truths, having first used Google to find out what trad climbing is – and presumably at the same time discovering why her new boyfriend was so much weaker than her usual climbing partners.
Judging by the maturity with which Pearson looks back on events, he’s had the sense to trust his good fortune and learn some lessons. He’s clearly a much better climber, but also a better human being. Diffley does well to prevent the story becoming too saccharine, but it’s unequivocally a heart-warming tale. The (mostly) judicious use of new technology, particularly drones, lifts its visual appeal, especially the stunning perspective of Dumbarton Rock, which made the place borderline appealing.
The one missed opportunity in this otherwise excellent film is the near-absence of any kind of reflection on the commercial world that drew Pearson in. I wonder if this was because he is still with the same sponsor whose logo was plastered all over his grand mobile home as he left for Europe five years ago. (His biography on their website skirts round a lot of the detail in this film.)
How did Pearson’s desire to be sponsored impact on his decision to give a wholly unrealistic grade to his big project? What impact are commercial interests having on the sport? We never really find out. The freedom in climbing, the lack of rules, has made it vulnerable to the incoming tide of consumerism – like a castle made of sand. Pearson seems chastened and wiser, but he still seems to have one eye on the next deal. Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part, but the real prizes aren’t signed on the dotted line.

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