Some films hit you hard. You know they are important. Deer Hunter. Philadelphia. Trainspotting. Already that’s three massive topics; war, AIDS and drug addiction. I went to see Psycho Vertical last night in Ambleside at Zeffirellis, and honestly wasn’t expecting to walk home with my mind ablaze with thoughts, and classifying the film as one of the most important I’ve watched, but it most definitely is. How could a documentary short film about a dyslexic climber from Hull, rank amongst the titles mentioned? Because of it’s lack of answers, it’s eclectic thoughts, and irreverent non-conformist dynamism. It quite simply stops you in your tracks because of its dysfunctional brilliance.
Psycho Vertical isn’t just a film about Andy Kirkpatrick, and his epic nail biting ascents, dangling off skyhooks over impossibly huge voids. Of course it is about that, and there is plenty of stunning footage to prove it, but there are so many layers to this film, that it unnerves you as much with what is said, as you feel unease with what you watch. Andy’s narrative plays over a backdrop of the screech of hoisting haul bags, the whipping of wind blown ropes, and the rasps of breath whilst jumaring up lines. While your stomach churns about insecure granite flakes, Andy questions the meaning of relationships, risk and responsibilities. In just 1 hour and 4 minutes, there’s a lot to cover.
If you are a parent, would you prefer to been a great parent, or a cool parent? You can’t be both. Watching the film is a slightly uncomfortable game of ‘would you rather’, and one mans answers may not match yours. Almost certainly not, when pitted against the brilliant, focused, and multi-directional brain of Kirkpatrick. That’s what this film excels at, I think, without realising it’s done so. The climbing is the least unnerving part of the show, and it acts to focus the brain on what you are watching, leaving the brains back door open and unguarded, for all those questions to seep in and fester. Every viewer will have a different experience of Psycho Vertical, which cements its importance.
This is no story of redemption, or a man finding himself, defined through his climbing. It is a smorgasbord of insecurities, and hard to watch. Some of the questions raised make you squirm, whilst others make you laugh. Once you’ve laughed, you question if it was funny, or if you laughed to cover your own insecurities. Perhaps the film wasn’t perfectly edited, or maybe it was. There are many shots of fingers trailing over rock, and along fences, but I wouldn’t change that for a second. Why? It is the ‘Gladiator’ shot of Maximus walking through the field of barley, his hands feeling the crop, or letting a handful of soil drift through his fingers before battle. The imagery is an identical parallel.
If you need a Hollywood ending to a film, this film won’t provide it. Whilst it tried to answer questions, anyone who has read Andy’s books, blogs, and social media posts, or who has watched him talk, with know that his mind is like a V8 firing with all cylinders in different directions. Is it too simplistic to suggest that the only time his brain is focused in one direction, is when he’s tied onto a rope and gazing up the rock line he’s inching up? As many climbers will know, it’s not the leaving that is hard, but the coming back. The honesty with which Andy asks the deep questions, which many of us scuttle hard never to address, strips a clear path to our soul. There are many hard questions, some unanswerable questions, all important questions. Watch this film. It matters to you, and all those around you. Don’t hide from it.