July 12, 2024

TV review – Urban free climbing with @JamesLKingston on @channel4 #DontLookDown

If your idea of a hobby is reading a good book or growing marrows then don’t look up Don’t look Down on 4oD. It will be something of a shock. It is a documentary that examines Urban Free Climbing, a new pastime to have arrived in the UK. New crazes generally get imported from the USA, but this has its roots in Russia and the Ukraine. Why? Amongst other reasons because they have big cranes with (relatively) easy access for people who aren’t supposed to be accessing them. This is a vital part of the divertissement, for Urban Free Climbing involves legging it up a crane or other tall structure when security aren’t looking and performing irrationally dangerous stunts and balancing acts at the top.

Don’t Look Down follows James Kingston, a 23 year old from Southampton. Discovering parkour had first developed his confidence and helped him escape a bedroom-living, school-avoiding life. Back then he was a gamer with a fear of heights.

It’s fair to say he has conquered that fear. His latest way to get kicks is to hang by one hand from the top of cranes. Yes, he doesn’t just climb them, he climbs them, balances like a tightrope walker 100m above the ground, then hangs like a Hollywood stunt man from the metal bars. Except there is no secret harness and no air bag underneath. If he slips he dies.

This is not a normal thing to do. Most people don’t do it.  But then – no matter how much you might wish they did – most people don’t spend their weekends reading The Iliad either. And just as a select band do spend their weekends perusing The Iliad, so Kingston is not alone in his desire to do dangerous things at great height. The programme makers tracked down a Ukrainian called Mustang Wanted. I know little of the naming conventions in the Ukraine, but I’m guessing that’s a pseudonym. Taking Kingston to meet Mr Wanted must have seemed a no-brainer, and the producers got plenty of the extreme behaviour they craved.

Previously Kingston had not appeared nervous, claiming that the only difference between hanging from a bar 10 metres above the ground and one 100 metres from the ground was in your head.  He was risking his own life, yet set his own unusual boundaries. ‘If it’s wet its a bit stupid,’ he admitted, as though it was perfectly rational to climb cranes when they were dry. But Mustang had crazier ideas. He had climbed an electricity tower and seen one of his friends electrocuted. Sixteen people had died doing urban free climbing in the Ukraine. Yet he wanted to push it further – encouraging Kingston to dangle him over the edge of a building. Mustang’s life would be literally in Kingston’s hands. Not surprisingly Kingston was unenthusiastic. Risking your own life is one thing. Risking someone else’s is another. Especially in a foreign country where if it goes wrong you’ll be phoning the local British Embassy from prison about a possible murder/manslaughter charge.

Having demonstrated some sanity, Kingston unfortunately did the trick on the top of one of the towers of the Moscow bridge in Kiev. How could he trust a man he had just met? I feared it would be a Hitchcockian set-up with Mustang letting go deliberately and Kingston being framed, although I couldn’t quite see who’d benefit from it.  Then, as though needing to demonstrate his own fearlessness, Kingston did a back flip on the top of the pylon. Get that wrong and well, I think we know what would happen.

Filmed throughout with Go Pro action cameras, this programme included footage that could not have been filmed a few years ago. A small camera on a headstrap can capture in HD all the one-slip-and-you’re-dead action. Does that encourage these extreme shenanigans? Is Kingston entirely compos mentis? Presumably disclaimers were signed and waivers filled in, but what were the programme makers planning to do if he did slip?T he film had no interviews with crane owners or people who would be affected if there was a death.

‘What can I do? I can’t get him to stop,’ Kingston’s mother said. She hoped her son would meet Mustang, realise he was ‘not quite right’ and take up another hobby instead. I think she would have been happier with stamp collecting.

This death defying behaviour obviously shouldn’t be imitated, we were told at the start. Rarely have I needed a warning less.

Watch Don’t Look Down on 4oD

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