Climber, filmmaker, writer. Johnny Dawes has many talents, and one of his brightest, other than his innovations on rock, must be his virtuoso ability to express what climbing means to him. Here he gives us some brief and bullet-fast soundbites on his favourite films on SteepEdge. First up, his own film Best Forgotten Art!
‘I had a lot of help from people like Rich Heap, Mark Turnbull and Robin Bingham. It was really difficult trying to fulfil commercial goals. Some of the film was miraculous but some ponderous, like the Sentinel Crack bit, the splicing wasn’t completed as I imagined but we had no more money so that changed the pace of the film. But in a strange, pointless and obscure way the Ray’s Roof sequence worked very well with the race cars. I mean, underneath climbing and racing there lies the same algorithm, a rise and flow of passion, and that’s unique to this film.’
Best Forgotten Art is Johnny’s own classic climbing film tracing the origins of the hand jam. Essential viewing for grit apprentices.
‘I really like Jump. I mean jumping is good fun, you have to know what is going to happen before you move and you’ve got to have your own internal orgasm before you do it.’
In the fairytale-like countryside known as the Czech Paradise, there are hundreds of slender sandstone pillars rising over a hundred feet – often only a few tantalising feet apart. While for centuries this has been a haven for climbers, so too has it supported another remarkable preoccupation, Tower Jumping, a sport with its own obsessive following and culture, and also requiring both agility and very calm nerves!
‘Well, ethically it leaves something out because I thought it ought more to lean towards the onsight. Everything else, and lots of what I’ve done, is cheating really. But you get the enthusiasm of individual people, like meeting Seb (Grieve), the way he uses his mind on a route, for distraction and mimicry;
“I’m on a rope.”
… No you’re not.
“I’m Jerry Moffatt.”
… No you’re not.’
Full of darkly insane characters attempting dark and dangerous routes Hard Grit abounds with dark humour and dark fear. Includes one of the most bone-crunching falls ever captured on film.
‘This is not really a film; it’s a fly on the wall. I loved it because it gets one of those things that never gets captured. You know the bit where he drops the £10 at the top of the cliff? It brings it to a… well it’s f**king obvious really isn’t it. This man with a bank of really rich memories, but no money.’
In contrast with Welsh Connections‘ collection of very hard recent ascents in Wales, To The Rainbow documents the return of Johnny and climbing partner Paul Pritchard to the slate quarries of Llanberis. Prtichard has suffered a severe head trauma since the pair’s pioneering days, and the reunion of mind and rock, if not body, mind and rock is heartfelt.
And a few more top film tips from Johnny:
‘It’s a classic. They will never make films like this again, and there will never be climbers like that again.’
‘The climbs in it I really wanted to do, the music I really enjoyed and it’s put together in a way that flows. The joy I feel is obvious to the viewer.’
Birdman of the Karakoram
‘John Silvester is just amazing. You get to see the relationship between two people as an adventure happens, and that’s quite rare.’
Upside Down Wales
‘It’s a really funny film. The pace is great, it’s beautifully edited and amusingly compered.’
Finally we asked Johnny, if he was to make another film, a Stone Monkey 2, what would it be about?
‘I’d go and walk up all the cliffs of Britain. Yeah, I’d climb no hands all around the country, you know, run around and do all the classic routes no handed. Probably on top rope… And it would be called ‘Actually Having Fun’.
And then, you know there’s ‘Dosage’? I’d make ‘Dotage’, which would be about what to do in your old age; climb brilliant climbs for fun. And then I’d put it to Bach, it’d be like ‘Classic FM Rock Climbing’.’
We suggest you watch this space!