Sunday 1 August 2021
I'm still all-in on the Olympics, so I've little time right now for movies. However, the week before the games began, TCM ran a whole day of Olympics documentary. In training for the games, I caught three:
100. (1959.) The Games of the V Olympiad Stockholm, 1912 (2017)
This "documentary" is essentially three hours of remastered newsreel footage of preparation for the 1912 games, the games in progress, and the immediate aftermath of the games, all without any sort of commentary. While incredibly clear, the shots of the games themselves show disappointingly little of the actual competitions. All you're left with is hours of people swimming, running, boating, riding, and shooting through the frames on their way to standing on podiums. It's an interesting historical document but barely entertainment.
101. (1960.) First: The Official Film of the London 2012 Olympic Games (2012)
A century later, the potential of cinema is realized as the games are filmed as pure propaganda... for the games. Come see the Greatest Show on Earth, the ultimate triumph of the human spirit over physical and mental limitations! I very much enjoyed the London games themselves, but I found their official film to be as generally empty and unsatisfying as the average corporate sponsor's commercial tie-in product.
102. (1961.) Tokyo Olympiad (1964)
Somewhere in between the two extremes of documenting history and re-writing it is this, a true work of art. The games are messy and confusing, just like the very human athletes who participate in them. And despite — maybe even *because* of — all their shortcomings, they're also amazingly beautiful. If you watch just one documentary about an Olympic games, make it this one.
(Forget what I said earlier about unsatisfying corporate sponsors. Coca-Cola has been sponsoring the games since 1928. As they'll be quick to tell you, winners always have and always will drink Coke!)
A fourth documentary is still on my DVR, so there may very well be more to come.
Update 08/14: finally got to that fourth movie, so I might as well put it here:
107. (1966.) XIVth Olympiad: The Glory of Sport (1948)
This "documentary" is essentially two hours of color newsreel footage of the 1948 games, the first after the 8-year hiatus imposed by World War II. It's far more watchable than the 1912 documentary I mentioned above, but its value is still almost entirely as a visual almanac of what the games were like before they transitioned from a purely amateur endeavor to the slick, corporate-produced games we have today.