Reel Rock Tour Hits Seattle with Valley Uprising

Oak Tree Cinema, Sep 24th.

This year’s Reel Rock Film Tour kicked off successfully in Seattle’s Oak Tree Cinema in Northgate last night, to a large and excited crowd.  In a departure from recent years, 2014’s Reel Rock Tour eschewed the barrage of 5-30 minute short films that typified previous shows in order to premier the long awaited full length feature film: Valley Uprising.  It is arguable whether or not the move will alienate die-hard boulderers or sport climbers – but it probably shouldn’t be.  The history of rock climbing in Yosemite is unilaterally important across the entire span of the sport – which is part of what makes the film so compelling.

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The film weaves through a few snapshots of critical times in Yosemite’s history.  Part 1: 1950-1965, The Golden Age highlights a lot of historical events, including a generalized hippie-beat vibe with psychedelic music and tiedye animations.  The main focus of Part 1 was the memorable battle of titans Royal Robbins, and Warren Harding (who looks amazingly 1/2 Wolverine, 1/2 Bruce Springsteen), and the eventual fascinating resolution that occurred following the establishment and repeat of Warren’s “Dawn Wall”.  The whole movie is done really well, but Part 1 was my personal favorite.  In particular, the overlayed animations upon black and white photography was an ingenious way to bring to life old stills in an appropriate way for our overwrought millenial minds.

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Part 2: The Stone Masters, 1973-1980, (or Stoned Masters, as the film insinuates) is perhaps a bit glazed over (no pun intended).  From Bridwell to Bachar, we follow Yosemite history from psychedelics, to a marijuana plane crash, to unbridled athleticism from the sport’s most visionary free soloist to date (feel free to argue with this, names like Honnold, Huber, Gullich, Croft, Potter, John Muir should all come to mind): John Bachar.  It’s almost unfair though to criticize how terse or laconic any of the film was, given the enormity of what it attempted to chronicle. Dale Bard was probably the most lovable character in the whole film, and stole the show in Part 2.

The final act was the expected return to drama, followed by resolution, followed by more drama that makes any film compelling.  The Stone Monkeys, brings the Yosemite law enforcement issue front and center, and hits the nail on the head there.  Some will argue the film is too condoning, other that it is too upstart.  Wherever you lie, you can’t argue that out of control law enforcement in the valley is just as big or a bigger problem than out of control climbers.  Jesse McGahey and the climbing ranger staff play a very interesting intermediary role not just in the film, but in real life – and it’s fascinating to see them and pretty much everyone else other than Dean Potter walking on egg shells about the whole conflict.  Really though, Chongo is the highlight of Part 3 for me, and if it doesn’t bring you close to tears you’ve probably never been a dirtbag in Yosemite before.

While the film does re-use a lot of already heavily publicized footage from previous reel rocks and other films, Peter Mortimer and the Lowell Brothers do an excellent job creating a memorable and valuable tribute to the history of one of the world’s great climbing areas. Their take is uniquely American, unPC (thank God for that), honest, and evocative.  There’s plenty to criticize – there always is.  Some will find the ending to drag on unnecessarily beyond a perfect note to finish on.  Some will ask (appropriately) where the hell is Peter Croft, Dan Osman, and plenty of others.  But just remember, it’s always easier to criticize than it is to compliment.  In the end, this has to be one of the better climbing films made in the last 15 years, and to that my hat goes off to everyone involved in the project.

However you feel about the film, or the about the abrupt change to the format of the Reel Rock Festival, the draw of Yosemite Uprising is as irresistible as Yosemite itself (ok, that’s hyperbole).  You won’t be disappointed if you go see it, that much can almost be guaranteed.  It should raise eyebrows, glasses, and a lot of enthusiasm to get out there and go climb on some of the world’s best granite.  Yosemite kicks ass, and I can’t wait to get back!

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