Visions of Eight
In Munich in 1972, eight renowned filmmakers each brought their singular artistry to the spectacle of the Olympic Games—the joy and pain of competition, the kinetic thrill of bodies in motion—for an aesthetically adventurous sports film unlike any other. Made to document the Olympic Summer Games—an event that was ultimately overshadowed by the tragedy of a terrorist attack—Visions of Eight features contributions from Miloš Forman, Kon Ichikawa, Claude Lelouch, Juri Ozerov, Arthur Penn, Michael Pfleghar, John Schlesinger, and Mai Zetterling, each given carte blanche to create a short focusing on any aspect of the Games that captured his or her imagination. The resulting films—ranging from the arresting abstraction of Penn’s pure cinema study of pole-vaulters to the playful irreverence of Forman’s musical take on the decathlon to Schlesinger’s haunting portrait of the single-minded solitude of a marathon runner—are triumphs of personal, poetic vision applied to one of the pinnacles of human achievement.
Following their new solo edition for Tokyo Olympiad, The Criterion Collection breaks out another film from their massive Olympic Films box set, presenting David L. Wolper’s production Visions of Eight on a dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
For this edition Criterion is reusing the same 4K restoration (sourced from the 35mm original camera negative) used for the presentation of the film in their box set. The two presentations don’t look all that different in certain respects: the image is still incredibly sharp with excellent definition and detail, colours look striking, and black levels are strong, though they can get a bit heavy and details can crush out in darker shots (more due to the original lighting I’m sure). The restoration has also cleaned up things remarkably, and source damage is not an issue of concern.
The film does receive more room to breathe on this disc since it no longer has to share it with Sapporo Winter Olympics as it did in the set, and the file for the film is substantially bigger on this disc. This could be the reason for what leads to a slightly cleaner look, though I should stress there is a “but” in there. Outside of some darker portions, like the opening (which still looks a little rough) I did think grain looked a bit tighter overall, highlighted especially in Kon Ichikawa’s slo-motion photography during his segment, "The Fastest." Yet, there is some banding evident, which is a bit of a surprise since I couldn’t detect the artifact in the older presentation. The opening fade-in to the sunrise and a few other fades show the effect. Otherwise, I couldn’t detect any other significant differences; it still has a generally film-like look and the restoration work has cleaned things up to near-perfection.
In all, it’s fine, generally looking the same as what was found in the box set, managing to clean up one aspect of the digital encode while flubbing another.
The lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack sounds the same. It’s sharp and clear, no severe distortion or damage apparent. The dated music can come off a bit flat, though.
One of the more disappointing aspects around Criterion’s Olympic box set, which featured well over 50 films, is that there were no on-disc special features (though there was a great book included). For this individual edition Criterion does throw in a handful of new material, starting things off with an audio commentary featuring podcasters for the website The Ringer, Amanda Dobbins, Sean Fennessey, and Chris Ryan. I confess I’m not familiar with the podcast, though the three sell it here as a look at sports through the lens of pop culture… or something. At any rate, I guess that’s how they approach tackling the film, looking at it as both a sports film and an art film, talking about the events specifically then going into how the eight filmmakers present them on screen, treating each episode as its own film in the process. Throughout we get some background to the project, which includes how Wolper came on board, how he got his eight filmmakers, and even talk about how Wolper more than likely altered the segments to make them more commercial. When Ichikawa’s segment comes up, they of course talk a little about Tokyo Olympiad and the technical aspects behind his segment. The track manages to stay focused, though they’ll try to lighten things up with goofier topics like asking how one is able to wear glasses while running and which directors they’d pick for a modern version, but in all I was pleasantly surprised by the track. It’s not up to Cowie’s track for Tokyo Olympiad (one of my favourite commentary tracks) but it covers the film and the events admirably enough.
Criterion next includes a lengthy 54-minute documentary on the film, looking to have been made originally for The Criterion Channel (though I currently don’t see it up there), and featuring director Claude Lelouch, supervising editor Robert Lambert, Munich Games historian David Clay Large, Ousmane Sembène biographer Samba Gadjigo, Matthew Penn (son of director Arthur Penn) and Mark Wolper (son of David L. Wolper). The incredibly in-depth documentary starts things off with how Wolper came aboard to take over the film (apparently approached by the Munich Games committee because they wanted to distance themselves from the last Munich Olympic Games in, oh, 1936 Nazi Germany), the original vision behind the film (10 directors), some of the directors considered (Leni Riefenstahl was apparently considered until the committee put that down hard), and then how the chosen filmmakers came to pick their events or topics, a couple sounding to have just come up with them last minute. Each segment got its own budget and was literally its own film, so the documentary ends up examining each, editor Robert Lambert talking a little about putting them together. There is discussion around how Wolper and crew wanted to handle what is referred to as the tragedy at the Games, with Schlesinger ultimately the only to even hint at it in his segment, but the documentary’s most interesting moments are probably around director Ousmane Sembène’s deleted segment, with some material from it here. It sounds like Sembène’s segment was to focus on black African athletes meeting or competing against black American athletes, and Sembène had also filmed footage featuring Jesse Owens, which is found here. The documentary is pretty good but it’s the material around Sembène’s segment that makes it a stand-out.
The disc then closes with promotional pieces around the film, including a six-minute featurette made for its release, On Location with “Visions of Eight,” and then the film’s original trailer. Criterion also includes a 48-page booklet. It doesn't contain the Peter Cowie essay found in Criterion's Olympic films box set, but instead features a reprint of a 1973 Sports Illustrated article around the film written by George Plimpton (focussing on the topics the directors chose or wanted to cover), an excerpt around the film from Wolper's 2003 memoir Producer, which addresses, among other things, untrue rumours around why Sembène’s segment was dropped, and then a new essay by writer (and "mediocre but devoted shot-putter in the middle of the 1980s") Sam Lipsyte, examining each segment.
A fine set of supplements to be sure, and the booklet is an excellent one, though I'm not sure they're worth getting this edition for if you already own the set.
Still a sharp looking restoration with a slightly better digital presentation in some areas, not so much in others, along with some great supplemental material around the film's production and its representation of the 1972 Olympic Games. The supplements alone may not make this edition worthwhile if one already owns Criterion's Olympics box set, but it's an easy recommendation for those looking to own the film on its own.