It’s hard to separate the art from the context in which it appears, and unfortunately just about everything I process these days passes through the filter of the outrageous culture war embroiling America weeks before the most consequential election of my lifetime. Even baking a loaf of naturally leavened bread, as I tend to do on odd days of the week, can land one the dreaded accusation of being privileged.
I can guess that this fraught predicament, of separating the art from the context, would at least elicit a sympathetic nod from Boone Speed, the artist whose portrait is rendered as the subject of a new film from filmmaker/director Mike Call.
Both Boone and Mike are dear friends of mine, and we’ve traveled together around the world on various trips and assignments. Being of the climbing generation just above mine, they are also figures of deep personal inspiration, adoration, and even heroic stature. To me, they’re climbing legends of lasting significance, though most younger crushers today will never understand just how punk it was to have a Pusher poster on your bedroom wall, let alone how spending your time grabbing plastic and hauling crash pads around a bleak desert landscape would elicit derision by most of your peers.
Our sociopolitical climate right now has little tolerance for nuance, which is only making things worse. Everything and everyone must be categorized into increasingly narrow terms for the sake of the moral grandstanders who lie on the extremes. These people seem to want to live in a world where you can only be “racist” or “socialist,” depending on whose social media accounts you’re following, and that our self-determined identities must now be central to everything in our lives, regardless of what kind of genetic smorgasbord comes back on your 23andme results.
In my mind, it’s far more interesting to be complicated—to have complicated views that defy easy categorization. The most righteous and loudest among us hate this, of course. But I say why can’t we be raging pro-capitalists who also fight for socialized health care? If you query average folks without using the all the usual loaded, baiting terms, you may find most already are.
“The Artist,” the name of this film, delves into the tension that arises from being a complicated person with complicated relationships. In other words, being a person who is real. Throughout this video, we are treated to a portrait of a guy who isn’t all that easy to nail down. Most of this tension arises between Boone and Mike, the self-referential auteur and narrator to Boone’s story, who hints at a lifelong friendship strained by young, brash egotism. The arrival at something resembling a repaired relationship is implied by the act of making of the film—or perhaps the making of the film was the catalyst of repair.
Artist. Professional climber. Friend. Husband. Son. Prince or brat. Who is Boone Speed? It’s complicated, of course. I’m struck by how brash it feels to watch anything loaded with this much nuance in 2020, as if I stumbled upon an artifact of a more rational era. And yet this is precisely the medicine we all need right now. It’s far more interesting to be complicated. And yet this in itself elects a greater irony in that Boone holds a strident aesthetic preference for simplicity.
Again, it’s complicated.
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