Lords of the Rings
Rings to go with the Official Fry
It's Summer 2012 and another Olympics is upon us, this time set in London and infuriating a bevy of befuddled Brits. Apparently, the planners neglected to invite anyone with urban planning expertise or basic common sense to join the decision makers and the result is a lot of business people who cannot get to their shops, open their shops, stock their shops or all three. In addition, since McDonald's is a key sponsor of the Games (which makes about as much sense as having a manatee model bikinis) , there was, initially, a ban on the beloved, soggy, vinegary English chip, since the McDonald's French Fry was to be the Official Fried Potato of the Olympic Games (Manatee – Bikini – remember?) I believe a compromise to that international incident was reached so that all peoples could clog their arteries in the spirit of cooperation and friendship.
To date, we've weathered Danny Boyle's opening ceremony, which I understand has been widely lauded, but which brought me back to the night I drank what looked like antifreeze from a mason jar at a dorm party. Industrial Age smokestacks rising from Stonehenge? Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band mixing with WWI Doughboys? (Did they completely jump over WWII or did I miss something?) National Healthcare for Peter Pan? Rowan Atkinson? The Queen was not amused, but, hey, this was arranged by guy who won an Oscar for a movie whose major set piece was a breast stroke through feces. (Between SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and TRAINSPOTTING, swimming in poo seems to be a theme for Boyle). We've watched Gabby Douglas become a star, Michael Phelps become a record holder, and badminton become a bad girl's sport. So we're off and running (literally, track just started) into week two.
However, sometimes you need a break from all the athletics and fat-free bodies in spandex. So how about a film fest of Olympic Sports? You can look up lists of Olympic films and the same films show up again and again. There's CHARIOTS OF
FIRE, which focuses, I'm told, on the discrimination against a Jewish runner and the religious turmoil of a Scot who has to decide whether to run on the Sabbath, but to me, it will always be about a bunch of guys in their underwear running on a beach to Vangelis music. There are several romantic comedies about ice skaters who overcome their prejudices to become champions, including THE CUTTING EDGE, ICE CASTLES (whatever happened to Robby Benson?) and, yes, I'm including BLADES OF GLORY. There are scads of films about runners, many at least nominally historical: PREFONTAINE, THE JESSE OWENS STORY, JIM THORPE: ALL AMERICAN, RUNNING BRAVE (there's Robbie Benson!), PERSONAL BEST. There's even a move about the Jamaican Bobsled Team: COOL RUNNINGS with John Candy, of all people, as the coach. There's even a film like MUNICH, which starts with the Olympics, specifically the massacre of the Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Games, but becomes a thriller about the hunt for the terrorists who perpetrated the massacre, featuring James Bond as a Mossad agent. But it's easy to get a movie that's just ABOUT the Olympics. Here are some ideas for themed Olympic Film parties:
1. Political Olympics - To outrage your friends, try OLYMPIAD, the documentary by Leni Riefenstahl, about the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Riefenstahl is thought of as Hitler's filmmaker and reviled as such for the massive propaganda film, TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, which attempted to deify Hitler and, they say, inspired the closing scene in STAR WARS (yeah, yeah, A NEW HOPE; it'll always be STAR WARS to me!) OLYMPIAD was meant to be the same sort of propaganda, no doubt – proof of Aryan athletic superiority – but it became something different. As the Games progressed, the most notable athlete was neither Hans nor Johann, but a poor black American named Jesse Owens. The film features loving recordings of Owens' multi-medal performances, punctuated by shots of Hitler spitting out his sauerbraten in pique. The film
is also notable for ground-breaking cinematography. It's also very long, often split into two parts: Festival of Nations and Festival of Beauty in English translation. Show with a selection of German beers along with hot dogs and Apple Pie. Invite Mom.
Carol performing a Triple Nyuk!
2. Historical Olympics – This can go one of two ways. You can find films of Olympic stars who went Hollywood and made some howling bad movies, or you can film of old sports. Least offensive of the first sort were probably the oldest stars. (Bruce Jenner starred in CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC. Makes becoming a Kardashian hanger-on and a Martina Navratilova-look-alike something of a career resurgence.) Sonja Henie, an Olympic figure skater from the 1930's, made a bunch of films which always gave her the chance to skate. Her skating generally stopped the movie completely, not unlike Harpo Marx' harp playing. Come to think of it, Sonja even resembles Harpo. Try SUN VALLEY SERENADE from 1941, which is probably her best. If that's just too old for you and you need more stimulation, you can get much of the same from SNOW WHITE AND THE THREE STOOGES, with Carol Haney as Snow and Moe, Larry and Curly in lieu of Sleepy, Dopey and Doc.
Another possibility is Johnny Weissmuller, who was an Olympic swimming champ, but who is best remembered as Tarzan. TARZAN THE APE MAN is the obvious start for a film fest. Make it a drinking game, where everyone must drink whenever Johnny says "Tarzan." (Hint – he had a bad time learning personal pronouns.) I'd go with Carlsbad Elephant Beer for the beverage, although Lowenbrau would work as well, even if neither of those animals would actually be close to Tarzan's ape habitat, which never stopped Hollywood from featuring them.
As to the other historical take, finding a movie that features sports as they were done in the old days, I was disappointed to find out recently that my favorite example of this group does not actually feature the Olympics, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to
talk about it anyway. THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH was directed by Alfred Hitchcock twice and in very different environments. The one from the '50's, which more people know, featured James Stewart and Doris Day and, in my opinion, is a little limp. The mother singing to the kidnapped child is blah. I much prefer a mother who can blow the bad guy away with a rifle, which takes me to the original British 1934 version. While it takes some perseverance to get through the stilted acting, stiff-upper-lipness and a kid actor you want to reach through the lens to slap, this is a great movie. It starts out in St. Moritz at a winter resort where some Olympic-like games are going on. Watching the skiing is a trip back in time! But, here, the mother is introduced competing in a shooting competition and her medal is only denied her by the shrill screeching of her annoying offspring. As the plot proceeds, and Peter Lorre is introduced as the villain in his passive-aggressive best, this film becomes much superior to its successor. Even though I think it would serve everyone right to leave the annoying kid with Lorre, the final scene with the mother defending her young, not with a merry tra-la-la, but with a gun, it is quite satisfying. Que sera sera indeed!
She got top billing! No wonder Peter snatched annoying kid!
3. Forgotten Olympics – If sport is not your thing, it helps to remember that, in ancient Games, plays, poetry and music were also part of competitions. While the Olympics were primarily sport-oriented, other, equally important celebrations had competitions in the arts, notably the Athenian Dionysia. THE TROJAN WOMEN was part of a trilogy by Euripides presented around 410 BCE at the Dionysia; it's the only play of the three that survived. The film version, from 1971, with Katherine Hepburn as Hecuba and Vanessa Redgrave as Andromache, is grim and atmospheric and decidedly not a feel good experience. Show it with hummus, pita, ouzo and ten boxes of Kleenex.
So, enjoy the Olympics in whatever way suits you best. And go for the Gold!
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|A Musing in Movieland|
Every other Sunday
One woman's attempt to find meaning in movies, from movies, and between movies and to figure out why movies should matter to us, all while trying to find a laugh in the whole, screwy business."
I'm still cautiously optimistic that there really is a pattern to our lives and am striving to find mine, although I secretly suspect that life is really just about a Big, Space Baby. Which would be disappointing. And confusing. But, hey, you gotta have a sense of humor about it all, right? Philosophical stuff aside, I am an attorney, an artist and a performer and, if I could figure out a way to make the last two pay the bills, I'd dump the first one tomorrow.|
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