11 April 2019

Free solo

I had seen on posters that the film 'Free Solo' would come to Neuadd Ogwen. And it looked interesting! As anyone who has ever climbed anything I am familiar with the name Alex Honnold and what it stands for. In case you never dangle from anything; he is a very, very good climber famous for climbing without a rope. I knew he had free-climbed the most imposing possible climb in the world: el Capitan in Yosemite. I therefore also knew he had survived. But I wanted to see more about it! So I decided that I deserved a  break after the dissertation talks and would go and see that. And I did!

It was worth it. Just that you know he did it doesn't make you stop wonder about how he did it. And how they filmed it! I didn't know they had. And you get an idea of his life. It's an unusual one!

He turned out to be a bit of a socially awkward chap. It was strongly suggested, but not spelled out, that he was somewhere on the autistic spectrum. And it seemed he was just happiest climbing. Especially without a rope. His mother seemed to accept that. I think she'll survive him. And the rest of the world thinks that too. Must be hard!

He also had a girlfriend at the time of the filming. And that got a lot of attention! But I suppose it mattered. For one; no man is an island. She's part of his life so is part of the film. His van (in which he lives) plays quite a role too! And it also affected the climbing; quite soon in the film, she belays him, but does it wrong, and drops him. Strangely enough, Honnold seems to have managed to stay injury-free all the way until that incident. It's quite brave to confess on camera you dropped anyone, but especially someone as famous as Alex Honnold! Later he falls again, not through a fault of hers, but Honnold himself wonders if she has affected his mindset. But he climbs through all the injuries. As he would...

The relationship is a bit weird too; it all starts with her giving him her number at a book signing. Seems like she was more into the myth than into the man! But then when they hook up she is upset he prioritises climbing, even though he knows it may kill him. But the climbing IS the myth.

Another thing that made me wonder was that the only role of the girlfriend is being a girlfriend. She does not seem to have a life of her own! And maybe that's exactly the way it was; I was wondering, though, if she actually does (who knows, maybe she translates Coptic literature into English when the cameras aren't rolling) but the film crew isn't interested. But his mother's job features. And well, given she seemed to be in it for the myth, then maybe that was just the way it was. It would match the other film I saw about a strange and very famous man on the spectrum, Gary Numan. His wife had decided as a schoolgirl she didn't need a career or an education; she would marry Gary Numan. And she did, and lived happily ever after!

You also see him practice in beautiful landscapes all over the place. And you see him recover from his injuries, doing very modest indoor climbs. And you see him practice on the real thing. Man that's scary. You know he'll live, but imagine doing such scary moves so high above the ground, without a rope, and after having already climbed non-stop for hours! Not my cup of tea.

When he decides on a day for the big climb he tries to hide it from his girlfriend, but she figures it out anyway. She's not happy! He goes off to do it anyway, of course, but quite soon he bails out. That is not quite what he had planned, but the camera crew is relieved to see the cameras in his face don't make him push on against his instincts.

He tries again, of course, and this time he makes sure his girlfriend is out of the way. And it is suggested he tells nobody what exact day it will be. You see the film crew spot him on the wall and start filming. I seem to remember there is footage of him setting off, though; did they know after all? Or was this just a reenactment, added in later? But he scampers up the wall and the camera crew get in position. Some on the ground with big telelenses; some others position themselves along the route. They have to be fast! Hmm, I am starting to think they knew all along. He did that climb in less than 4 hours; how do you get into position in time if you have no warning? There's not much footage from close-up but they do catch him at a particularly difficult bit we've seen him practice on before.

You also see the camera crew sometimes not being able to watch! I can imagine. We in the cinema knew he would survive; they didn't back then. And they were especially scared he would fall off and die due to a mistake by them. Drop a rock on him, get in the way, distract him; that sort of stuff.

Then you see him do the final tens of meters and he's at the top. He did it! And it IS a rare feat. He phones his girlfriend (clumsily) and walks down. And hugs the camera crew. And then goes to his van to do pull-ups on his fingerboard. As you do!

What will he do next? He would almost have to free-climb Olympus Mons without aids to top this...

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