Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Review: "Progression"

If you're the type who dismisses climbing films as amateurish assemblages of clips cobbled together with no story line and a boorish soundtrack—in a phrase: climbing porn—do yourself a favor and check out Progression, the latest film from Big Up Productions (i.e., brothers Josh and Brett Lowell plus Cooper Roberts). It will change your perception of what a climbing film can be.

Progression is a collection of mini-stories about major ascents and ground-breaking climbers—in that way, it's similar to past films of the type. But the quality of the photography, the camera angles, the storytelling, and above all the editing raise Progression to a new level, surpassing even the high bar set by previous Big Up titles. Each segment is compelling—Progression even manages to make lead-climbing competitions feel super-exciting—and the transitions are smooth. The filmmakers assume they have knowledgeable viewers, and they adhere to the storyteller's mantra: Show, don't tell. When Adam Ondra makes 18 big moves above his last pro on the second ascent of Papichulo (5.15a), the narrator doesn't have to tell us, "Look at that run-out!" and Josh Lowell doesn't. When Kevin Jorgeson's belayer fumbles with the Gri-gri just as Jorgeson is about to attempt the second ascent of the Groove (E11), the film doesn't comment. We get it.

Watching Progression, I realized this film does for hard rock climbing in the year 2008 what the American Alpine Journal (which I help edit) does for alpine and big-wall routes around the world: It selects and documents many of the best routes of the year for posterity. But Progression (along with Big Up's Dosage series of annual videos from years past) does this in a visceral way that print can never achieve. It makes me jealous of the filmmakers—imagine if it were possible to create such a work for alpine climbing each year!

Big Up is offering Progression in both DVD and downloadable forms; the download costs just $19.95 (a saving of 10 bucks), but it's a 1.8 GB file, so you need a good connection, and it doesn't come with the many extras included with the DVD. These include a long segment on Tommy Caldwell and Justen Sjong's first free ascent of Magic Mushroom on El Cap, which only gets a tease in the final cut of the film. Still, the HD download version looks great on my computer and gives me the opportunity to open the film whenever I'm bored at work.

By the way, the film has a long segment on Caldwell's super-project on El Cap's southeast face, but doesn't ever name the route. At the time, Caldwell was trying to maintain a not-too-well-kept-secret. The route is Mescalito, and Tommy and Kevin Jorgeson are back on it this fall.


Anonymous said...

Any place to get it besides their flash-only website which just killed my browser and ten open tabs? Very rude.

Dougald MacDonald said...

You can get the DVD and a T-shirt for $29.95 at:

Plus, there's a card for one free year of Climbing mag in the DVD box. Can't beat that.