The totalitarian love-in, aka the 2008 Beijing Olympics, are history. Good riddance. I hear it was watched by gajillions of people and that the host country won buckets gold medals. Some protested, got arrested, shot. Bladi-blah-blah. We did all right I guess; I wouldn’t know because I refused to watch a minute of it. Sorry, but I’m not interested in seeing thug regimes show how effective they are at brutally social engineering people. Or swallowing the crap that corporate media peddles to whitewash it all. “Spirit of the Games” my ass.
Now that the collectivist-corporatist orgy is over, it got me thinking about the very different themes present in Chariots of Fire—dedication versus duty. A hunger for glory, both personal and spiritual. In essence, a celebration of the heroic.
Aesthetically, the film goes from stately and reserved, like an Edwardian photo album, to impassioned kineticism. A modernist, magisterial score embraces it all to paint a picture of Olympian triumph in the waning light of Empire. It serves up an historical footnote long forgotten in a way that still gives me a visceral reaction every time. That familiar icy gut when the runners approach the starting line. The body straining for those precious few inches, and victory. The emotional drain afterwards when faced with defeat.
It’s a sad but true fact that were this film to be released today it wouldn’t have even been a “sleeper”, let alone an Oscar Winner. It would have quietly been passed over for the latest star-vehicle featuring [enter movie star of the month here]. Oh, maybe for costumes or art direction, but that’s it. It would’ve remained art house or just gone straight to video.
From my personal experience vault: I distinctly remember when I walked out of the theater. I was very young, very impressionable, and absolutely astonished by what I saw. Here was heroism of the kind that only knew from myth and fantasy stories. Here were runners performing like gods, but they were real, which made their victories (and defeats) the stuff of legend, yet attainable on Earth. I caught the bug and became a track athlete.
Years later, there was a theatrical re-release and I was hesitant about seeing it. It had been a long, long time since I strapped on my running spikes and stared down the lanes of a track. Would the indelible impression the film made on my young heart be now seen as just a childish emotional reaction? Would the whole story seem dated and, dare I say it, cheesy? No. It still evoked those feelings of triumph—this time, I could appreciate the film for its wider themes of glory, prejudice and redemption.
It was more than magnificent. It was a reaffirmation that there is only one “Spirit of the Games”. The human spirit.
Here’s the brilliant opening sequence, starting with the eulogy for Harold Abrahams, segueing to the famous beach running scene.