100 Years of Olympic Films
09: Helsinki 1952
Spanning fifty-three movies and forty-one editions of the Olympic Summer and Winter Games, this one-of-a-kind collection assembles, for the first time, a century’s worth of Olympic films—the culmination of a monumental, award-winning archival project encompassing dozens of new restorations by the International Olympic Committee. These documentaries cast a cinematic eye on some of the most iconic moments in the history of modern sports, spotlighting athletes who embody the Olympic motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger”: Jesse Owens shattering sprinting world records on the track in 1936 Berlin, Jean Claude-Killy dominating the slopes of Grenoble in 1968, Joan Benoit breaking away to win the first-ever women’s marathon on the streets of Los Angeles in 1984. In addition to the work of Bud Greenspan, the man behind an impressive ten Olympic features, this stirring collective chronicle of triumph and defeat includes such landmarks of the documentary form as Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia and Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad, along with lesser-known but captivating contributions by major directors like Claude Lelouch, Carlos Saura, and Miloš Forman. It also serves as a fascinating window onto the formal development of cinema itself, as well as the technological progress that has enabled the viewer, over the years, to get ever closer to the action. Traversing continents and decades, and reflecting as well the social, cultural, and political changes that have shaped our recent history, this remarkable marathon of films offers nothing less than a panorama of a hundred years of human endeavor.
The ninth dual-layer disc in Criterion’s 100 Years of Olympic Films box set covers the 1952 Helsinki games, presenting three films: Hannu Leminen’s Where the World Meets and Gold and Glory, and then Memories of the Olympic Summer of 1952, director unknown. All three films are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 and have been encoded at 1080p/24hz. There were no specific notes on the restorations of these films, but Wood did write that all films before and up to 1992 (other than the ones for Mexico City and Seoul) were restored at 2K or 4K resolution.
The two black-and-white films, both directed by Leminen, have a very similar look. In comparison to the other black-and-white films in the set they are each noticeably darker and also not nearly as sharp as some of the better presentations, with a few sequences coming off quite blurry. It’s possible some of these less detailed sequences are related to shooting conditions. The source materials also show a bit more wear with some fluctuations and pulses popping up, along with the occasional frame shift. Outside of that I didn’t notice much more in the ways of damage, just a few little marks.
Memories is the lone colour film on the disc. The colour presentation is good with beautifully saturated greens, reds, and blues as well as accurate looking flesh tones. It also has clean whites and fairly deep blacks with excellent shadow detail. Like the other two films on the disc the footage can vary in clarity, with most of it looking pretty sharp and highly detailed mixed in with a handful of blurry sequences, but again it could be shooting conditions or even the use of different film stock.
I didn’t detect any digital artifacts during any of the films and film grain is present, looking really nice overall. In the end the source materials hold things back a little bit but the restoration work is still very impressive and they have been encoded beautifully.
Where the World Meets (1952): 7/10 Gold and Glory (1953): 7/10 Memories of the Olympic Summer of 1952 (1953): 8/10
The audio for all three films (all in lossless PCM 1.0 mono) are a product of their age. The narration for the black and white films can sound a wee-bit distorted in comparison to Memories but all three aren’t particularly dynamic or all that crisp to begin with. Still, no severe damage, drops, or pops are present.