Summer Olympic Movie Picks- Part Two

I did a post like this for the Vancouver games a little more than two years ago and I shall unearth it again at some point at least on Letterboxd because that was certainly a lot more fun and in many cases weirder. However, the variety that is provided by the over-stuffed nature of the summer games is nothing to sneeze at. I think that these films that feature the sports of the warmer Olympiad will likely introduce you to something you want to check out. I know I found a few. These picks will be posted in three parts. You can read part one here.


Football

Since the Olympics is global I will use the international name and translate for America, this is soccer. All kidding aside, as I looked through some lists of soccer movies I was struck by the realization that the disparity between the greatness of the game and the quality of films generated by it is greatest here. Most of the ones I saw listed were sad. There are some I heard good things about but have yet to see, like The Damned United, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos, and Pelada. Many of them in the US are usually about a ragtag bunch of kids on a team the best probably being The Ladybugs. As for the adult version of the game the best most recent one I saw was Rudo y Cursi which gave us this song too:

However, world cinema does provide a few more options which are suitable for all ages. If you like your soccer with genre-bending weirdness, I’d suggest the Die Wilden Kerle series from Germany. However, I’d stress you not watch any of them dubbed. I saw one dubbed the first time and it was some of the poorest collective work I’ve seen, aside from the fact that in the US we for some reason altered the chronology.

Then O Menino Maluquinho (The Nutty Boy) has a climatic game which features brilliant, practically superhuman goaltending by the protagonist, which is one of many great aspects of the film.


Gymnastics (Artistic & Rhytmic)

Unless I’m missing something major, gymnastics hasn’t had a lot of great representation on the big screen. Christopher Campbell’s list definitely makes me want to see Gymkata and it’s certainly more compelling in concept than anything I thought of or found; a rash of biopics, lame parodies and anorexia-themed MOWs and, of course, the most unfortunately executed death in Final Destination 5.

Now, Rhythmic Gymnastics seems to be absent from any real representation. Like synchronized swimming it has its notable parodies like that on Lizzie Maguire and by Will Ferrell in Old School, but I can’t seem to find anything straight. It could be great fodder for a doc in the vein of what I perceive Pina to be, as I still need to see it. There is a niche waiting to be had.

Handball

Yup, this is what thew world thinks of when you handball, just another example of our at times jingoistic naming practices, though to be fair Wall Ball is used to describe the one we know better too. Handball is another sport I’m glad to see roll around every four years and I agree wholeheartedly with this Awful Announcing post that it should be a featured on ESPN more often.

With regards to movies there wasn’t much to find. There’s Szansa a Polish film which seems to pit a nurturing, caring, intellectual, literary teacher against a hard-nosed, disciplinarian, gym teacher who crosses the line to win and winning said handball games is good for the school. Then there’s Forever the Moment a fictionalized account of the South Korean women’s handball team that competed in the 2004 games.

Hockey

Only during my occasional watching in the last games did I finally come to appreciate the version of the game which is played on grass and not ice. The only movie that seemed to jump out was Chak De! India, which is a kind of underdog story about a former player turned coach who takes over the long languishing national women’s team. This title is available to stream on Netflix (US).

Judo

Judo is a martial arts discipline I enjoy watching and pretty much always have since I’ve known of the games. The issue, as with many of these sports, has been finding a filmic representation of it.

Some quick searches brought some docs partial and short, but then as it turns out Kurosawa’s debut is a judo film, Sanshiro Sugata, wherein a young man struggles to learn the nuances and meaning of judo and life. This film is available from Criterion in one of their excellent Eclipse collections. This film is accompanied by a sequel and is referred to collectively as the Judo Saga.

Modern Pentathlon

Honestly, when I went to search out film ideas for each of these sports the one I pegged as being the hardest was the pentathlon. Truth be told, I only found one movie to pick from, but it’s called Pentathlon and Dolph Lundgren is in it. Essentially, Lundgren’s character and his sadistic trainer meet up eight years after their Olympic sojourn in an ever-escalating series of action nonsense, much of which you could have spoiled for you by the Wikipedia entry. It sounds like one of those movies that’s so brash it’s brilliant or painful – it does strike me as one of those movies I’ve seen on TV and all but forgotten.

Rowing

I mentioned in the canoe section that rowing could be found in The Social Network, however, there are a few more options to be had. You could pick either of two versions of the same tale, as comparing an original and a remake can be fun in A Yank at Oxford and Oxford Blues. For a more sports-oriented choice there’s True Blue (called Miracle at Oxford on US Home video) about a famous 1987 race. Lastly, if you want your sport as more of a setting for your drama than the premise, you have Summer Storm, which is about relationships and sexuality, and Queen of the Night, with a backdrop of politics, handicaps and romance.

Shooting

Now, I won’t be vague with shooting because the number of films that involve gunplay are countless. So I sought out films that at least feature competitive marksmen and there are two provided by Honk Kong cinema called Double Tap and Triple Tap, the former spins off from the first. Both involve rival shooters and getting involved inadvertently in crime and intrigue.

Swimming

Swimming is one of the most populated sports in terms of events, and one of the most popular at the games in general. Even on dedicated websites like Sports in Movies there isn’t a long list of swimming films. It’s hard to imagine that recreational swimming is something that needed to be created, much less that sport needed developing. However, there is a share of cinema in the pool.

Going back to 1931 you can watch Jean Vigo’s 2nd short film Taris, which is a rather artistic rendition and promotion of France’s swimming record-holder at the time. This film is available in the Complete Vigo through Criterion. If you prefer your star-power cinematic The Swimmer stars Burt Lancaster. If your inclinations are more stalker-crazy there’s the fairly recent Swimfan. In the more family-friendly realm there’s the fantastical DCOM The Thirteenth Year and swimming features somewhat in A Dolphin Tale.

Synchronized Swimming

With synchronized swimming there is actually rather a balanced choice. You can either enjoy it rendered comically in this classic bit:

On in a light, whimsical, biopic musical called Million Dollar Mermaid.

It is just by its very nature one of the easiest sports to poke fun at but it is really something when done well, and something else when it’s not which both those clips prove.

The list will conclude tomorrow!

DVD Review: Haxan

Häxan is a fascinating piece of cinematic history for a number of reasons – the first certainly being that it is one of the earliest films to straddle the line between fact and fiction; narrative and documentary. Second, because it is one of the earlier (#134) releases by the Criterion Collection.

The film tells its tale of witchcraft and satanism from the middle ages through the modern times. It cleverly uses vignettes (dramatizations if you prefer) and slides, illustrations etc. It goes from a title describing reasoning and custom behind an act or belief to a scene in which it is depicted or to an illustration where typically a pencil held by an unknown person indicates to us the area of interest.

The film goes along chapter by chapter revealing reason and the cause and effect of the hysteria concerning witches and the devil. Although, we at one point find out that several trials involve people from the same household there is little by way of a through-line, and that is by design. However, it does make it slightly troublesome to follow in part because you expect it to come back to one scenario or another but it doesn’t. Alas, one of the perils of blending fact and fiction, it moves and is structured like a doc but is portrayed as fiction much of the time so the audience member expects similar conventions.

Towards the end it does do a fascinating feat of simulacrum and tell the audience its reusing actors, does demonstrations and the titles take on a very analytical approach but it is some of the more enjoyable stuff in the film.

Criterion gets very high marks for this particular release for a number of reasons. First, there are two versions of the film on this DVD – one the 1922 silent, and then a 1968 re-score, voice-over included re-do by avant-gardists called Witchcraft Through the Ages.

In the former Criterion did a great job re-recording the score and returning the film to its original intended tinting. Tinting was a fabulous technique which was widely practiced in the silent era because it gave you the wonderful contrast and grain of black and white but it was bright and lively. It was also a tremendous tool for symbolism of time, place, emotion and so forth as colors hold many associations for people.

The original Häxan is very much worth watching. The sound version is worth comparing for students and serious films fans. The sound version is not only unnecessary but appalling; it’s akin to colorization in its futility in attempting to improve something that needn’t be fixed.

Not only is it conceptually a bad idea but the execution is also poor you get two conflicting sonorous signals sent to you and thus the confusion of the filmmakers is evident, even if subconscious. There is a clear dichotomy between the pomposity and seemingly unintentional Movie Tone newsreel style gravitas that Burroughs has in his voice and the ridiculous, cacophonous Jazz score by Jean-Luc Ponty, which makes me wonder if that music wasn’t the work of the devil.

Another thing lacking in the newer version was the tinting, so in fact, it is the opposite of colorization it’s actually a desaturated less visually appealing version of the film. The voice-over also cuts out a lot of text from the titles some including interesting anecdotal information and at times footage. There was one instance there the image was up well before the voice over started.

Ultimately, it pales in comparison to the silent film but it was still quite intriguing to watch both and compare them and the two cuts plus a plethora of bonus material like liner-notes, commentary by a Danish silent film scholar, director’s intro outtakes a look at Christiansen’s sources and stills make the DVD worth getting,

Häxan (1922) 7/10
Witchcraft Through the Ages (1968) 4/10

DVD presentation: 10

Thankful for World Cinema- The Passion of Joan of Arc

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc (Gaumont)

The first thing that needs to be said about The Passion of Joan of Arc in the state it currently exists is that it’s a miracle we have it at all. Several cuts vanished through the years and this one suddenly surfaces in a Norwegian mental hospital 25 years ago. Truly, the salvaging of some of these older films is at times miraculous and lends even more credence to the importance of film preservation. These works of art shouldn’t be lost and we can’t leave it to chance to find wonderful cuts such as these.

Second, is if you’re watching the Criterion collection version of this film opt for the Voices of Light soundtrack. Again an interesting note is that even though music clearly, according to all the records, was played when this film was screened Dreyer has nothing in his notes to indicate what that music should be, which is odd if you see his other work you know how exacting and precise he could be. So this is as close to an “official” score as you get and it is truly wonderfully done and moving and while it claims not to be a score it syncs beautifully with the images and story.

This film should be viewed for the performance of Maria Falconetti alone. It is often cited as one of the greatest in the history of film a fact which is also unique to this film considering how infrequently Falconetti acted on camera, however, this is no rote repetition of consensus. She is marvelous. It can truly be said this performance is well ahead of its time and reads like one of the greats of the 40s who had the benefit of sound. Falconetti needed no sound, no words and carries this film single-handedly in the rare performance that can be called a tour-de-force.

Lastly, there is the story itself and how it unfolds. I think it is likely one that transcends religion. Whether you’re inclined to believe Joan or Arc’s claims or not you see someone being horribly mistreated, you see one of the judges hurting because he believes her and you witness the tragic outcome of the tale.

This film is a masterpiece of silent film. You’ll note as you watch very few titles are actually needed. It manages through it’s unique visual style to communicate its tale very effectively. It is a must see.

10/10