Film #12: XIVth Olympiad: The Glory of Sport Mar 14, 2018 21:16:22 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Mar 14, 2018 21:16:22 GMT -5
XIVth Olympiad: The Glory of Sport (1952)
Directed by: Castleton Knight
Directed by: Castleton Knight
Film #12/53; part of the Criterion Collection's "100 Years of Olympic Film" box-set
XIVth Olympiad: The Glory of Sport is one of the first Olympic documentaries — the first in the respective Criterion Collection box-set — to be filmed in glorious Technicolor, and what a dimension it adds to the overall product. While black and white forces the viewer to distill the details of a scene down to their essence, with particular emphasis on lighting and shadows, color, in this case, allows for textures and conditions to come to life. The blues are eye-popping, while the rustic maroons of the track and the reds of some runners shorts loudly assert their presences on director Castleton Knight's cameras, and the benefit of this added layer makes the overall film a cut above what was becoming a visually interchangeable genre.
The film becomes with a dramatization of early Greek Olympians, who are shown running through ruins passing the fire of the Olympic torch to individuals all across Europe. This proves to be a fitting prologue as the documentary goes on, drawing attention to the ideals of the Olympics and the skillful precision in body, mind, and spirit necessary to excel at the games. Knight begins by devoting the first forty minutes of the film to the Winter Olympics in St. Moritz in 1948, which was the subject of the previous documentary, Fight Without Hate. He pays a great deal of attention to the conventions of tobogganing, an event marked by steep slopes slicked by ice and the sharpest of turns that ostensibly beg for injury. From there, we pick up on the London Summer Olympics in 1948, where track and field, discus, cycling, and other endurance-driven events form a thesis about the capacity of the human will.
The early minutes nicely set up the focus of Knight and his cinematographer Stanley Sayer, who would go on to realize George Lucas's vision as part of the effects crew on the original Star Wars films, as well as David Lynch's visually distinct Dune. Sayer favors extreme long-shots and the wide-angle lenses that capture a vast stretch of landscape that simultaneously render the many competitors as part of a greater collective. Various shots are elegantly filmed. Gone is the experimental quality demonstrated in previous Olympic documentaries and present are more tricks-of-the-trade learned from the pioneering Leni Riefenstahl on her unforgettable documentary epic Olympia, whose influence is abound here.
Seldom do we get to hear the competitors put into words their feelings or their opinions on the games. For the most part, the film is given dialog by way of narration from famous announcer Bill Stern, who you might recall as an integral voice in the Gary Cooper drama The Pride of the Yankees. Stern's vocal clarity renders our coverage and clarity of what's taking place unambiguous, and on top of giving us the final results of each event, he erects a charisma in his conversational beats. Couple this with the linearity of the film's structure and there's a great juxtaposition that comes together and remains in-tact for the film's 138 minute runtime.
Your mileage may vary, however, when it comes to the straight-forward nature of XIVth Olympiad: The Glory of Sport. I, for one, was impressed that the documentary could give what felt like a comprehensive and ultimately satisfying look at two very different Olympics held the same year without appearing as if it was shortchanging either (even though it obviously is). Knight could've very easily made a four hour documentary, but in keeping things concise, he comes upon an important realization that should've served as advice for novice documentarians who one day wished to film the Olympics; it's better to come with a thesis for your work than a willingness to capture everything. Revisit the Amsterdam Olympics as they were covered in Wilhelm Prager's The Olympic Games, Amsterdam 1928 if you need a reason why.
Directed by: Castleton Knight.