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Hard XS

DirectorRich Heap and Ben Pritchard
Producer Slackjaw
Reviewed byEd Douglas
DateWednesday, 14 November 2007
Rating 3.5 out of 5

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If Hot Aches' Committed, released at the same time, is a big steak dinner, Slackjaw’s Hard XS offers smaller portions of exquisite variety, the very best climbing dim sum on the market. Producer Rich Heap has a rare grasp on the wildness between people’s ears. He and his partner in film Ben Pritchard seem to rootle around in the heads of their subjects like a pig after truffles. If Hot Aches are all action and big numbers, Slackjaw have the edge on characterisation, and the episodic structure of Hard XS showcases that talent superbly.

So we have a series of short one-act dramas that encapsulate the desperate, the dangerous and the downright bizarre, a true compendium of the brightest and best in British climbing. Top of the pops, certainly for drama, is the sight of Dave Thomas and Martin Perry rummaging through the holds on Breakaway at Henna Cliff in search of some that might take their weight. Thomas, in the most engaging way, looks like he’s arrived at the crag with a sandwich or two missing from his packed lunch while Perry’s face reveals his worsening situation like a clear summer sky filling with thunder clouds.

Equally good is the ascent of Great White Fright, another slice of Mick Fowler’s unstable legacy, by Ian Parnell and Chris Cubbitt. Parnell is typically intense, but Cubbitt is a revelation. Like a windswept Tom Petty, he holds your attention, from the moment he explains how breaking ribs and his pelvis changed his life, to the look of abject horror on his lean face as he contemplates the horror of what he is contemplating. I wracked my admittedly doubtful memory for a better piece of filming that captured that moment every climber can recognise, of fear and doubt, the taste of metal on your tongue, and the absolute certainty that this is the road you have to travel.

Some might find the range of these films a little eclectic, but I liked the wide range of personalities reaching beyond our community’s mini-celebrities. It confirmed my impression that British climbing, far from being swamped by image merchants and the dash for cash that cynics see everywhere, is in reality interesting and very much alive.

I have never been a huge fan of sport climbing, certainly not to watch, but Steve McClure shown on the first ascent of his 9a+ Overshadow made me warm not only to him as an athlete but also to the whole business, although not to the extent that I’ll now haul my fat ass off the couch and head for Malham. Anyway, I loved this collection of films, and Slackjaw even threw in an engaging portrait of Andy Kirkpatrick – wittily titled Suffering Andy – as a bonus disc.

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