Olympic Film Reviews
In 2017, Criterion Collection, with the collaboration of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), released a boxed set of 53 of the official films of the Olympics from 1912 through 2012. The set consists of 43 DVDs or 32 Blu-ray discs and 114 hours of footage. There is also a book with commentary by noted film critic Peter Cowie and a fascinating essay by restoration producer Adrian Wood about the history of the restoration project. This boxed set, although expensive, is an invaluable addition to any library, public or private, that takes seriously its collection about the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement. I watched all 114 hours. In addition, I watched the official films of the Sochi 2014 Olympics, the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics and the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, as well as an extra Seoul 1988 film that is not included in the boxed set. Thanks to Robert Jaquier, the IOC’s Olympic films project manager, Jean-Louis Strangis and others in Lausanne, I was also able to view the existing footage for those Olympics for which there is not an official film. These comments can be seen here.
The IOC has since made most of the official films available here. The site is a bit clunky. Despite the home page, the films post-1984 are available. You have to click “Reload” to get to them.
Most of the official films fall into one of three categories: 1) Reporting Films that try to cover as many sports and events as possible; 2) Profile Films that focus on a select number of individual athletes; and 3) Auteur Films, in which the filmmaker is more concerned with expressing his or her vision than with portraying the competitions. Once in a while, a film successfully combines these three genres. The best examples are The Olympics in Mexico, covering the 1968 Games and directed by Olympian Alberto Isaac, and Rings of the World, the official film of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, directed by Sergei Miroshnichenko.
Almost all official films begin with the Olympic Flame being lit in Olympia and carried to the host city and then to the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony. Summer Olympics films tend to emphasize track and field (athletics), which is not surprising since running, jumping and throwing are the most universal sporting activities. Films of the Summer Games more often than not include a montage of divers, one of gymnasts and another of weightlifters. One of the highlights is Bud Greenspan’s riveting 23-minute portrayal of the 1996 weightlifting battle in the featherweight division between Naim Süleymanoğlu of Turkey and Valerios Leonidis of Greece.
Winter Olympics films usually include a montage of ski jumpers and another of figure skaters, as well as coverage of the men’s 50-kilometre cross-country race.
Most official films also include footage of athletes crashing and being injured. For the Winter films, these unfortunates are usually skiers, although sometimes they are competing in sliding sports and even skating events. The most violent aspects of ice hockey are also emphasized. In the official films of Summer Olympics, the most common falls that are shown take place in the cross-country portion of the equestrian three-day event.
Here are my reviews of the films, with emphasis on Olympic history.
The Olympic Films