June 26, 2012

Western Gold: A Bouldering Film by Alex Savage {Review}. ~ Jackie Hueftle

Pete Lowe @ Red Rocks

I have to admit after watching Alex Savage’s previous effort (a 15-minute film about climbing in Switzerland called Swanky Swizzy), I was pretty excited to see his newer, longer film based in western North America.

Western Gold takes Savage from Leavenworth, WA, down through Idaho, to Red Rocks (near Las Vegas, NV), then back up to Wyoming on his way home to Squamish, BC. Along the way, he manages to capture a number of different climbers making impressive hard ascents and climbing many, many classic moderates. What brings all these together you ask?

Squamish Highball

The answer: exposure. Almost all of the problems are highballs, i.e., the climbers have some serious air under their feet without ropes and usually with a questionable landing area.

The film is broken up by section and each section features different climbers—some locals from the areas and others traveling through like Savage. Kyle O’Meara, Johnny Goiecoechea, Pete Lowe, Paul Nadler, Ryan Olson, Flannery Shay-Nemirow and Asher Shay-Nemirow are just a few who make appearances throughout the film.

The climbing is spliced with interviews and some scenic, lifestyle shots, though thankfully Savage keeps these to a reasonable minimum. There are just enough to help the viewer understand and appreciate the areas, but not so many that they become boring or overwhelming. The footage is, for the most part, beautiful and skillfully shot, with the static shots highlighting Savage’s mastery of his equipment as the lighting and definition are incredible.

In addition, Savage chose to make use of some nice ambient music that compliments the climbing rather than overshadowing it with the typical loud, in-your-face soundtrack.

It was good to see a wide ensemble of climbers, areas and problem styles in one film. That said, the variety makes for a quite long film. Those eternally psyched on climbing and climbing films will appreciate that this film clocks in at nearly 90 minutes. The rest of us might like to watch it broken up section-by-section.

Besides the length, the only real issue I had with the film was the abruptness of the transitions. Even within sections, the transitions from climbing to interview felt pieced together instead of fluid and smooth.

Flannery Shay-Nemirow above and beyond.

With such high quality footage and interesting music, I would have liked to see Savage create a better flow throughout each section and through the film as a whole. However, this detail is not enough to take away from the overall package, which is a film chock-full of boulder problems for climbers from V5 to V13.

There are three ways to watch Western Gold. One is to simply download it. The other is to purchase the DVD. The third is the “Download Package” which is a combination of the first two. A purchase of the film also treats you to 14 minutes of extras—edited bonus footage, outtakes and a short “Raw & Uncut” section showing Savage’s ascents of Green In The Face (V13), Wet Dream (V12) and Pete Lowe’s ascent of A Clockwork Orange (V13).

Though not as polished, the bonus climbing footage was as enjoyable, if not more so, than sections of the movie, and includes footage of Charlie Barrett making a rare ascent of Atlas Shrugged (sandbagged V12) in Black Velvet Canyon.

The outtakes were great because they featured more interviews with Kyle O’Meara, Pete Lowe and Flannery Shay-Nemirow, all three of whom are favorite climbers of mine, and a play-by-play of Savage’s experience on Green In The Face (V13) including a short discussion of the holds and the crux moves.

It is clear from the film and the extras that Green In The Face was a real personal struggle for Savage—from the height and challenge of the climb itself to the difficulty of being all by himself—and though he mostly stays out of his own film, it is nice that he included this section so we could get to know him a little better.

Kyle O’Meara flexin’ on
All of the Above

Western Gold is certainly not your average bouldering film. If you are a climber of any type you will find things to enjoy in this 90-minute testament to the beauty of the areas we visit and the joy we find in the sport we love.

Download Western Gold or buy it on DVD here.




Jackie Hueftle works at one of the biggest indoor bouldering gyms in the world—The Spot Gym in Boulder, Colorado—and runs their blog. She also writes for climbing magazines, is working on several books for children and adults, and spends as much time as possible out-of-doors.



Editor: Thaddeus Haas

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