Monday, 24 November 2014

Redemption: The James Pearson Story

My first reaction on seeing the title of this film was one of hilarity. Basically everybody I talked to about it creased in fits of laughter at what has to be one of the most ridiculous titles ever to grace the box of a climbing film. With a title like that and James Pearson's history of ascents weighed down by heavy North Face stickers, my hopes weren't exactly high as I snuggled into my cinema seat - "This should be a laugh".

It seems to be the season for ultra-personal and uncomfortably revealing stories of climbers as flawed people. Call it negativity or realism, it doesn't really matter. It's a bit weird, but at least it's something a bit new I suppose. Did it work? I really think it did as an explanation of his motives. Personally, I totally agreed with James from the outset -  you should grade things what you think they are and don't worry too much if you inadvertently claim to be the best climber in the world, only later to be proved wrong. This film spelled that out for people who didn't already get it and I think James came across as someone you wanted to give a big hug, seemingly a chap with good motives very deep down, who somehow lost his way in the world of ego and confirmation.

There are some moments of fantastic comedy. Whether it's the revelation that the Pearsons' marriage is based on an error in translation, the hilarious contributions of UKC editor Jack Geldard, or a bizarre moment in which a gremlin-like Dave Macleod appears out of the bushes, there's plenty of comic relief in what is otherwise a fairly serious saga of regret.

Unfortunately for me, the main question surrounding all of this was the one of sponsorship. As the narrative of the film pointed out (with interest), sponsorship isn't cool. Overgrading routes and therefore receiving sponsorship as a result is really not cool and the film did nothing to remedy this. It wasn't the film's fault, but rather the fact that James continues to make money from having overgraded a series of routes - even if that exposure is now coupled with penance. As an armchair pundit it seems quite clear - if he cares enough to make a film about how sorry he is for all his past woes, surely he cares enough to reject his sponsors, putting a bit of soul before dosh.

I'd like to brush this fairly fundamental flaw to one side though. Redemption was really excellent. I think this was a sign that the model of climbing films is changing and the balance between action, humour and story was impeccable.  The story wasn't just about James, but about UK trad as a whole, exploring the motivations of other climbers in contrast to James and with some very funky cinematography to boot.  It would be a fab introduction to British trad for those not au fait with the weird grading and petty squabbles o so rife about and it doesn't bash you over the head with repetitive platitudes.

So aye, it's definitely worth a watch, particularly if you haven't seen all the other Pearson releases. Perhaps next year there could be a film of this build quality coupled with a story of passion - "Enlightenment: The James Pearson Story Of Dropping His Sponsors And Climbing A Death Route In The Moors" ?

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