The Wizard’s Apprentice came out recently. Appropriately titled since he looks like a dorkier Harry Potter, the film is a documentary about wobblers and how to throw them as petulantly as possible. There might also be some climbing in there somewhere. At least, that’s what I assume based on numerous online discussions about the movie focused entirely on the sharp-end tantrums thrown by climbing’s most adorable crusher–I haven’t actually watched the movie yet as I’ve been too mesmerized by Smitten, which was recently released for digital download.
Smitten is an interesting film. In lieu of the usual smugly spiritual sounding but ultimately meaningless pontification you see in most climbing films, they’ve gone for a style I’m calling murder porn. Each climber is introduced in a vignette roughly the length and quality of the short intro plot in a porno (“Oh my, I can’t possibly eat this large sausage pizza all by myself!”) only instead of setting up sex, the scenes end with one of the climbers brutally murdering another. I’m not really sure why they chose to portray themselves as serial killers, but if you were curious why a climbing movie had an explicit warning label on it, wonder no more.
Despite, or maybe partially because of, the strange introductions, the movie is engaging. The climbing is some of the best I’ve seen and although it is a little bouldering-heavy for my tastes, there’s plenty of really stellar sport lines shown. Zac Vertrees in particular sends the bouldery 5.14 Outbreak in great style–I’ve never seen anyone as precise on such long, dynamic moves. The shots are all well set up and the intermission featuring BASE jumper Lucky Chance on multiple gorgeous jumps is a nice way to take a break from the climbing while still featuring some beautiful shots of the Outback.
The low point of the movie, unfortunately, comes at the very beginning. The interviews generally feel a little awkward and forced, but the first of them with Vertrees and his girlfriend/wife Jarmilla Tyrril is truly bizarre. I’m not sure why they interviewed both of them at once, because while Jarmilla is talking at some length about her project, Vertrees stares dully at the ground like a robot whose off switch has been flipped. Later, Vertrees starts talking smack to Tyrril about her project being soft, while she randomly slaps at her thigh and says “Ow” repeatedly. Killer Aussie bees? After that she joke strangles her husband, who retaliates by pinching her neck, eliciting another “Ow,” and then rounds out the interview by playing with a Yo-Yo while continuing to berate his lover.
Seriously, if I wanted to go and spend quality awkward time with a couple whose marriage seems to be falling apart, I have plenty of friends from high school who married way too young. I don’t need this in my climbing movies. But generally, the film is great and well worth the fifteen bucks for a digital download.
Anyway, back to Ondra. To get an idea of the sort of epic wobblers he likes to throw, let this video load and then skip to the five-minute mark. The funny thing is, I think this is actually a scene from the movie, and they explicitly shot it to make it appear that he’s screaming so loudly as to be audible from the nearby townships, like some kind of climbing Frankenstein’s monster being electrocuted into life. That does not seem like a very flattering way to paint the subject of your documentary, but maybe there’s a cultural difference at play here. Maybe in the Czech Republic throwing a tantrum is considered a sign of virility or even strength?
Regardless of their origin, the fits have stirred up a considerable, and considerably pointless, controversy. In the summer nobody would even be giving this discussion a second thought, but it is wintertime, so let’s delve into this shitpile.
Numerous people in online discussion forums have opined that nobody even has a right to care about any of this, since climbing is an individual sport and we should let people enjoy it however they like. This has sparked the a good ‘ol fashioned internet libertarian ho-down about where his rights end and the rights of other climbers begin, but I think this misses the mark. Sure there’s a point at which your shrieks of impotent rage become a serious impediment to others’ enjoyment of the cliff, but they’re going to become a tremendous annoyance to your climbing partners and friends long before that. There’s a reason people don’t like to belay Ondra, and it sure as hell isn’t his weight. Do you want friends? Then don’t spaz out every time you pitch off.
Rock and Ice’s Andrew Bisharat agrees, saying that Ondra needs to “…lighten the fuck up. It’s just rock climbing.” Which is probably fair as the kid seems more tightly wound than Michelle “Stepford Wife” Bachmann and ultimately, climbing is a sport mostly engaged in by privileged people to unwind and have fun. If you’re going to get that stressed out about what you’re doing with your life, you could at least be working yourself to death at a non-profit or something. Come on Ondra, stop being so selfish and save the world already.
On the other hand, Jamie Emerson at B3Bouldering responds to Bisharat by… not addressing Bisharat’s central thesis in any way whatsoever, saying instead that “The Wizard’s Apprentice is unquestionably the most inspiring sport climbing movie I have ever seen,” and “Ondra is the best climber in the world.” So I guess the movie must have some redeeming qualities, although Emerson doesn’t address Ondra’s very vocal frustrations so I guess his stance is that he gets to do whatever he wants because he’s fucking awesome. Which I suppose would be pretty well in keeping with the historical ethics of our community for the most part–we do love us some heroes. [Emerson has responded to the frankly gross and irresponsible slander of this paragraph in the comments below.]
Speaking of rad-ass people doing whatever they damn well please, Jason Kruk and Hayden Kennedy recently made the first fair-means ascent of the infamous Cerro Torre in Patagonia, chopping much of the famous bolt ladders on the Compressor Route as they came down. These stone-cold badasses clipped only five bolts as they forged a new line up the mountain in 13 hours flat, a line which goes at 5.11 A2–pretty moderate considering they circumvented a 450 bolt aid ladder. There’s yet more ethical controversy surrounding the bolt chopping that’ll provide great fodder for a future post.
For now, let’s all just agree that the only people for sure allowed to endlessly yell at the crag are those who sound like they’re having mind-blowing sex as they do so. Rock on, you crazy diamonds.