Cinema and the Olympic Games

From Leni Riefenstahl’s filming of the 1936 Berlin Olympics to Hugh Hudson’s «Chariots of Fire» of 1981, the cinematic camera has had a long journey in the history of recording the Games. From the glorification of the human body to the ideal of victory and the self-sacrifice it requires, from the surface glow of well-toned muscles in the manner of Adolfo to the spiritual journey from anonymity to fame, the directors who have handled the subject of the Olympic Games and the spirit of sportsmanship have turned their lens from the superman to the simple man. Cinema, whether documentary or fiction, has kept a close eye on the Games, drawing inspiration from the stars and their intensity. The organizers of the Athens 2004 Games have also turned their attention to the cinema of the Games. The Cultural Olympiad has already put together an event titled «Cine-Mythology: Greek Legends in World Cinema» which features 45 films from around the world, as well as taking part in the 16th Panorama of European Film organized by the Eleftherotypia daily with its own special section, «Cinema and the Olympic Games,» which will be held from October 10-16 at the Apollon Cinema. The tribute is composed of 22 films covering a broad range of cinema history and trends from Europe and the United States. A special feature on the program is Alfred Hitchcock’s silent film «The Ring,» which will be shown to the accompaniment of live music composed by Dionysis Savvopoulos. The film examines the world of boxing, and its final scene – the big match between the two fighters – is considered one of the best depictions of a boxing match in the history of cinema. As a whole, the tribute covers several decades and offers a taste of the ideological and social standards of each era. Swimming and its place in American sport could hardly leave Hollywood unmoved, the athletes’ perfect bodies set the standard for the prototype of movie stars. Johnny Weissmuller (1904-1984) is a brilliant example of an athlete who was «moved» from the pedestal to the film set. Five gold medals, 67 world and 52 national titles, a victor both in the 100-meter and 500-meter freestyle, Hollywood took Weissmuller and transformed him into the «Lord of the Jungle,» a role he played so convincingly that today he is better known as Tarzan than as an athlete. With his partner Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan), they were often the target of censorship under the Hays Code, which forbade, among other things, nudity. In the first releases of the films therefore, Tarzan and Jane, though stripped of the inhibitions of the civilized world, were always properly covered. The scenes showing O’Sullivan swimming and sleeping nude were cut out of the original version and edited back in in the 1960s. The Panorama tribute will be showing the 1934 version of «Tarzan and His Mate.» Esther Williams (b. 1921) left her own mark on the Games with her impressive acrobatics in water, the predecessors to synchronized swimming. The «American Mermaid» – as she was dubbed for her ability to stay underwater for extended periods of time, breaking all existing records – was a champion swimmer, but the Second World War dashed her hopes of competing in the 1940 Games (they were canceled). Nonetheless, one of her most impressive appearances is in George Sidney’s 1954 «Jupiter’s Darling,» a film also included in the tribute. Less known in the film studios of her time but famous in the arenas, three-time figure-skating champion Sonja Henie appears in the tribute in H. Bruce Humberstone’s 1941 «Iceland» in a brilliant sequence on ice that was choreographed by Greece’s Hermes Pan. The tribute moves from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood during its heyday to the «raging,» dark free cinema of Britain in the 1960s. One of the highlights is Tony Richardson’s «Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,» in which the director turns his lens on the training regiment of Colin, an uneducated young man who, after a burglary, is sent to a reform school. The governor, who believes that sport will help the young criminals assimilate back into society, is told that Colin is a very good long-distance runner and encourages him to race on the premise that he will receive special privileges. The film’s narrative includes flashbacks showing the hero’s life before his detention and the events leading up to the burglary. The film stars Tom Courtenay in a debut performance that won him two British Academy of Film and Television Awards for Best Young Actor and paved the way for a brilliant career. Highlights «Walk Don’t Run» (1966) by Charles Walters. Cary Grant stars as a man in Tokyo for the first week of the Olympic Games and plays cupid to his two young housemates. «Breaking Away» (1979) by Peter Yates. A group of teenagers mature into adulthood through cycling. With Dennis Quaid. «The Winning Team» (1952) by Lewis Seiler. Biopic of baseball legend Grover Cleveland Alexander. Starring Ronald Reagan and Doris Day. «Gentleman Jim» (1942) by Raoul Walsh. The story of James J. Corbett, an Irish-American bank employee who became a boxer and defeated John Earl Sullivan in New Orleans in 1982, winning the title of world heavyweight champion. Starring Errol Flynn. «Golden Boy» (1939) by Rouben Mamoulian. A talented young violinist becomes a boxer in order to make money. Starring William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck. «The Hustler» (1961) by Robert Rossen. An up-and-coming pool player and hustler, Eddie Felson, plays the long-time champion in a single-stakes game. Starring Paul Newman and Piper Laurie. «A Day at the Races» (1937) by Sam Wood. A Marx Brothers comedy.