2017, Movies

The Dawn Wall (2017, Josh Lowell, Peter Mortimer)

This is a pretty good documentary which I might have liked even more had I not stupidly already watched Free Solo first. I would strongly recommend that, if you’ve seen neither and you want to watch both, you watch The Dawn Wall first and Free Solo second. For one, that’s the chronological order of the feats but there are also good filmmaking reasons for watching them in chronological order.

This is a pretty crazy and incredible story, and it’s well shot and kind of incredible to watch. Much of my expectations of the film and my experience were coloured by having watched Free Solo first, which is the greater filmmaking achievement and, I think, the superior film. So I suspect that, had I watched The Dawn Wall when it came out, I might have even more praise for the way it was shot.

Caldwell’s story is crazy. One of the flaws of the film, if I can nitpick, is that there isn’t enough interrogating of the trip to Kyrgyzstan and what happened during the trip. The view is both pro ‘Westerners travelling anywhere they want in the world without thinking about the consequences’ and pro Kyrgyz government. That’s…a little naïve, I think. And a better film would have looked into that whole trip more. However, that is not what this film cares about, and it’s understandable.

That’s because what Caldwell and Jorgesen did is apparently unprecedented. And the film does an excellent job of portraying both Caldwell’s obsession and the sheer difficulty of doing something like this. (They literally trained and planned for years.) It also reveals more about different types of climbing to the layman – I had only ever heard about bouldering for the first time due to the Olympics and so the film’s decision to explain why Jorgesen switching from bouldering to free climbing was a difficult one was, for me, necessary and helpful.

I love watching unprecedented athletic achievements. As a non-athlete I find this stuff beyond impressive. And the film does a good job of both conveying the difficulty of it and also showing the emotional struggle. It’s not anywhere near as accomplished as a film as Free Solo but the latter is basically trail-blazing. It also doesn’t quite go as deep as Free Solo does into the philosophy behind climbing, but it is still a very compelling watch and it’s well made.


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