900 100 Years of Olympic Films

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Re: 900 100 Years of Olympic Films

#176 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Sat Feb 10, 2018 8:06 pm

What funk said. I salute anyone with the patience to have watched them all by now.

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Re: 900 100 Years of Olympic Films

#177 Post by Chief Brody » Sun Feb 11, 2018 2:48 pm

I can't cover every movie, but I've managed to gather a few thoughts after a long journey of 53 Olympic films.

The Early and Silent films:

Meticulously restored, for one. Fascinating to see the progression of style in the early days of cinema. We go from the camera as a "recorder of events" to the point where filmmakers are experimenting with this new art form; the use of slow motion, close-ups, and even POV (the camera is placed on a bobsleigh and we are taken on a run) become stylistic devices. And I believe in St. Moritz 1928, we are starting to see more than just "camera as recorder". Shots are chosen for poetic, impressionistic effect. The art of film is evolving.

And purely from an art direction point of view, I just enjoy seeing the hair, wardrobe, the locations from back then. What I love about film is the time capsule aspect. Play Stockholm 1912 back to back with London 2012 and you'll really blow your mind.


What more can be said about Leni Riefenstahl's document of the 1936 Berlin games? The stylistic flourishes and advancement of the form are revolutionary, without question. But the historical context, of course, gives the film an extra level of fascination and revulsion.

Early Colour films:

I have a thing for 1940s and 50s colour films, especially something from Powell and Pressburger. And London 1948, Cortina D'Ampezzo 1956 and Melbourne/Stockholm 1956 hit me right in the sweet spot. Lovingly restored, the colours are rich and deep. I couldn't get enough.

Melbourne I always find fascinating because of that odd quarantine law, and the equestrian events had to be done on another continent. Stockholm's very own mini-Olympics!

Narration is pretty standard in these films.

Tokyo 1964 (Kon Ichikawa version):

The gold standard. Gorgeous to look it. Very little narration. An impressionistic masterpiece.

Starting with Rome 1960 (a beautiful looking film in its own right), the Olympic film is starting to get epic. Maybe capitalizing on the "scope" quality of film of that age (VistaVision etc) Like the Olympics, perhaps Olympic films were trying out the "faster, higher, stronger" model.

I know digital is where we're at now, but, god, film looks good. When properly shown, restored etc.

The 70s films:

Sapporo. A visual stunner. Visions of Eight. Experiment in form, Eight shorts stories. Loved. White Rock. Weird. The Olympics as hosted by James Coburn. What a trip, man. And Montreal. Not a great film, but the first Olympics I saw as a kid. The feelings, the locations, and the colours still remain with me to this day.

The Bud Greenspan era:

To be honest, I was getting a bit tired of this style of documentary after number 6 or 7 (and the voice of Will Lyman was haunting my dreams). The 90s video look is not the most pleasing. But there's no question these films set the bar for the "sports journalism" style of documentary. And there's no better example than Los Angeles 1984. I could watch that movie anytime and not get sick of it.

Marathon and First:

Loved the Carlos Saura 1992 Barcelona film for its personal, auteurist-ish, style.

The London 2012 is essentially an updated Bud Greenspan style doc, but it captures really well the modern style of sports documentary (something you'd see on 30 for 30, for example). Lots of cuts, lots of angles, playing with film speed, and music underneath.

To sum up, I was exhausted after binging these 53 movies in the span of a month and a half. I felt like just ran a...marathon. (haha). But again, a fascinating journey through history and the history of film. And truly a learning experience in terms of film form. The Olympics has the same story....the flame...winners and losers...the flame goes out. So a bit of a post-modernist frame here - it's not just what the story is about, but how the story is told. At least for these Olympic films.

If anyone has any specific questions about certain movies, don't hesitate to ask.

Now, onto watching the real Olympics!

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Re: 900 100 Years of Olympic Films

#178 Post by Timec » Tue Feb 13, 2018 11:47 am

I just finished up the silent films in the set and mostly found them a bit of a slog. All but one of the features felt artlessly cobbled together, with little sense of cohesion or momentum.

Of course, the first one—from the 1912 games, but assembled last year—is literally just three hours of contemporary newsreel footage stitched together, so that kind of makes sense. The later films from the era benefit from more mobile cameras, slow motion, and lengthier footage of some of the events (particularly soccer and rugby games, water polo matches, and some of the equestrian events)—but they still essentially feel like extended newsreels.

From what I remember of watching Olympia years ago, I can now appreciate what a leap forward it was for sports cinematography. I can’t wait to re-watch it as I keep working chronologically through the set.

With all that said: The highlight of the silent films is The White Stadium. Perhaps it’s simply because I prefer the “aesthetics” of the winter games—or maybe it’s just the benefit of having an auteur like Arnold Fanck at the helm—but this was the first film in the set I’d actually consider “good” on an artistic level. The filmmaking felt more dynamic and the editing more artful, and there was more visual beauty, even in simple shots of snow falling from trees. It also has more personality—I quite enjoyed the early scenes of the townspeople preparing for the games, with everything from a snowball fight to an unexplained scene of a topless woman and man skiing down a mountain in their underwear.

On a side note: To reiterate Chief Brody’s comment about the “time capsule” aspect—as lackluster as I found all but one of these films, there’s still some thrill in just seeing the people of +/- 100 years ago living their lives. I sometimes found myself focusing more on the crowds of spectators—their faces, their clothes, their mannerisms—than on the athletic events.

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Re: 900 100 Years of Olympic Films

#179 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Thu Mar 01, 2018 12:56 am

I just finished 16 Days of Glory. As good a capsule of the 80's as anything, it's also easy to see how it defined the sports doc genre ever since.

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Re: 900 100 Years of Olympic Films

#180 Post by stevewhamola » Mon Mar 05, 2018 7:09 pm

Heads up to Canadians: the BD set is currently $233 on Amazon.ca ($200 less than the DVD version!). Cheaper than getting it from a US site during a 50% off sale, factoring in exchange and shipping.

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Re: 900 100 Years of Olympic Films

#181 Post by Ribs » Thu Mar 15, 2018 1:00 pm

It's mentioned in the Podcasts thread, but Peter Becker spends a good ten minutes or so talking about the background of this release at the end of the The Treatment podcast this week. Of note: Criterion's been planning this release for about ten years, and were very, very involved in the process, it wasn't just dumped onto Criterion's plate as a prestige project. And also that he imagines Tokyo Olympiad will eventually be broken out of the set into its own release.

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Re: 900 100 Years of Olympic Films

#182 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Mar 15, 2018 2:05 pm

It would seem a pretty certain bet that if it is going to happen Tokyo Olympiad would most likely get a separate release to coincide with the latest Tokyo Games in 2020.

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Re: 900 100 Years of Olympic Films

#183 Post by Drucker » Thu Mar 15, 2018 3:27 pm

They also broke out some of those Demy releases of course, so I hope this happens with Tokyo Olympiad as well as Olympia.

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Re: 900 100 Years of Olympic Films

#184 Post by tanders1 » Mon Mar 19, 2018 12:34 pm

Having a hard time getting through the 1928 Summer Olympics Italian disc. I've realized that the problem is the music. This is perhaps the worst silent film music used so far in the series. There is no correlation between the piano and action on screen, the pianist seems half asleep at the wheel. Did anyone else find this to be a problem? I'm hoping the second disc of 1928 Olympics has more appropriate and interesting music.

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