With over two years in the making, “The Wizard’s Apprentice,” the definitive documentary about the world’s best rock climber, Adam Ondra—who, for all the attention he has received in the last five years, still remains rather mysterious (especially to Americans) in terms of his personality, opinions and approach—carried some high expectations into its long-awaited online release last Friday.
Though “The Wizard’s Apprentice” has already received a few favorable reviews online, I, for one, could not have been more disappointed with the final product. The routes shown, the quality of the footage, the long-winded edits, the odd and occasionally annoying narration that often ends up putting words in Adam’s mouth (preventing us from really learning much about what he himself thinks), the film’s off-putting obsession with grades, the sense that filmmaker Petr Pavlíček just doesn’t “get” sport climbing, the fact that probably 70 percent of the 1-hour 45-minute video has already appeared online in the form of pre-released shorts that I’d already seen, and the fact that movie came out more than a year too late were just some of the reasons “The Wizard’s Apprentice” let me down. (I don’t even get the name: Who is the Wizard and who is the Apprentice?)
I understand how difficult it is to put together any high-quality media feature that doesn’t lag too far behind the fast pace of today’s world … but to release a “definitive” Adam Ondra film now, after his mind-bending last year when he really stepped into form, and NOT include any of those recent visionary and inspired ascents—his onsights of at least seven 5.14c’s; repeat of Chilam-Bilamin four tries; his big 5.15b’s FAs of Chaxi-Raxi, La Capella, and La Planta de Shiva; flash of a V14 at Font, and so on—is inexcusable. Too little too late.
But that’s not exactly what I want to write about today.
If there was one thing in the documentary-style film that really stuck with me—and not necessarily in a good way—it was Adam Ondra’s tantrums that he throws seemingly about 95 percent of the time he falls. No, it literally stuck with me: as in his shrieking, squealing voice pierced through my head as I laid in bed that night trying to fall asleep.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not opposed to people throwing wobblers when they fall. I don’t really do it myself, but to be honest, I think that probably holds my climbing back more than itmakes me a good example. Releasing pent-up emotional energy is a good thing. Caring deeply about your project to the point that when you are on route and in the zone, and this route and moment are all that matters, and—FUCK!, SHIT!—you fall or fail—those are good things because it means you are alive and you feel.
More than anything, wobblers account for some of sport climbing’s greatest stories and our funniest memories.
And that’s the thing: though you’re pissed in the moment, if you can’t find humor in yourself after the fact … Well, that’s when wobbling becomes not OK.
But what Ondra does when he falls goes beyond your standard sport-climbing wobble. Like his climbing prowess, Ondra’s tantrums are in a league of their own. They can best be described as fits—deeply manic fits. His shrieks sound like an amplified baby’s cry mixed in with a pack of rabid raccoons fighting each other.
“The Wizard’s Apprentice” briefly touches upon the topic of Adam’s completely ridiculous behavior, with Alex Huber signing off on it, saying it’s completely normal to drop an F-bomb when you fall. One of the best parts of the film—and one of the only moments in the film that actually reveals something we didn’t already know about Adam—is in an interview with Adam’s mother, who says that Adam has always been a fit thrower, and that when Adam reached a certain age, she recommended that instead of crying he try cursing instead.
But if Adam is the “Apprentice,” then I would recommend to whoever is the “Wizard” that the next time Adam throws one of his apocalyptic fits, he speed lower Adam to the ground, slap him upside the head and tell him to lighten up. It’s just rock climbing.